AN illegal immigrant has admitted his role in a cannabis farm discovered by police.
The Vietnamese man, who came into the UK unlawfully four years ago, was caught by officers as he tried to flee the 300-plant drugs den in Millfield, Sunderland.
He later told officers he was working to pay off a five-figure debt to a criminal gang.
Long Thanh Cao, 34, appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court yesterday where he admitted a charge of cannabis production.
Wearing a brown leather jacket, Cao listened to the case through an interpreter and spoke only to confirm his details.
Prosecutor Glenda Beck told the court that police who searched the house in St Mark’s Road first came across two 2ft cannabis plants.
They went on to discover more than 300 plants growing in the loft of the flat, as well as specialist heating and lighting equipment.
She said: “No forensic evidence has been recovered yet, but due to the officer’s experience, he has identified them as 213 mature plants and 116 immature plants.
“The defendant was arrested and interviewed and he admitted entering the country illegally four years ago.
“He was employed as a gardener at the address to look after the cannabis plants.
“The farm had been there for six months and the plants recovered were the first crop.
“The farm was already set up when he arrived at the property.
“He was doing this to repay a debt of £20,000 and said he got paid £1,000 a month.”
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Defending Cao, Duncan Emmerson said there would be no application for bail.
Chair Alex Hendry told the defendant: “You will be committed to the crown court for sentence in relation to this offence on a date to be advised.”
Beat bobbies came across the cannabis farm, with an estimated value of £100,000, after following the strong smell of the Class B drug.
The Northumbria Police helicopter was also scrambled to help, as its hi-tech thermal imaging cameras can spot heat sources given off by sophisticated cannabis-growing equipment.