A CHINESE immigrant was jailed for two years for his role as the “gardener” in a £400,000 drug operation run from a converted Methodist church.
Li Dan, 37, pleaded guilty to assisting in the production of the class C drug cannabis at Chantry House, Winsford Road, Wettenhall.
Following a police raid on the property on May 15, Dan and his pregnant partner were found living in a cramped kitchen at the “respectable” property surrounded by more than a 1,000 plants.
Nicholas Williams, prosecuting, said: “The building had been adapted for the production of cannabis on a large scale. The defendant and his girlfriend were found asleep on a mattress in the only inhabited room with access to a small kitchen area and a toilet. The remainder of the property was kitted out with plants, high intensity lighting and extractor ducts for the purpose of cannabis cultivation.”
Police found 477 plants which were about to flower and another 740 seedlings with a total street value of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Dan, a diving instructor in China, was smuggled into the UK by a gang in 2003 and, after failing to gain asylum, worked in restaurants in Manchester and Sunderland.
Mr Williams added: “He had been sightseeing in the area and was introduced to someone by a friend who had given him the keys and the instructions as to how to water the plants and look after them. He said he didn’t know what the plants were at first.”
Cheryl Mottram, defending, said: “His vulnerable position was taken advantage of. He was offered free accommodation and food in return for watering the plants. He received no financial benefit.”
Judge Stephen Clarke said: “Under your circumstances, you are easy prey for the people running businesses of this nature because they are aware that you are unable to find legitimate employment.
“They have exploited you as they have exploited the people they sell the drugs to. It is becoming a real problem, particularly in this area. Houses in respectable areas are being used as cannabis factories. This case is typical of that and you are playing your part in a very lucrative drugs trade.”
Dan was sentenced to two years imprisonment, minus the 73 days he has already spent in custody.