Jailed teen cultivated cannabis farm to work off illegal migrant debt
A teenager who cultivated a commercial scale cannabis factory in Ipswich to pay for being smuggled into the country has been jailed for 10 months.
Klodian Nikoci was put straight to work tending the operation inside a one-bedroom flat after being brought into the UK by truck, Ipswich Crown Court heard.
The 19-year-old was alone in the first-floor property in St George’s Street when police executed a warrant at 10.05am on January 15.
Prosecutor Russell Butcher said Nikoci climbed from a window onto the roof of an adjacent car repair centre but soon complied with instructions to descend and surrender himself to officers.
The Albanian national told police he was working to pay off a debt incurred from his illegal transportation to the country, but offered no comment to questions during a recorded interview.
Mr Butcher said the flat contained 43 female cannabis plants, nearing maturity, with a potential yield of up to 3.6kg and worth up to £36,000 on the street.
He said officers also found specialist growing equipment powered by electricity that appeared to have been bypassed.
Craig Marchant, mitigating, said Nikoci had been cooperative after his brief escape attempt and pleaded guilty to producing cannabis between December 12 and January 14 at the earliest opportunity before magistrates the day after his arrest.
He said Nikoci, who was sleeping on a camp bed in the flat, had naively taken on the role of watering plants to repay his debt.
“I can’t say his vulnerability was exploited, but his explanation of being taken to the flat and promised work to pay off the debt suggests an element of coercion that adds to his naivety,” he added.
Judge Emma Peters accepted Nikoci played a limited role, but said: “Let’s be clear, you were involved in a large operation capable of producing significant quantities of cannabis on a commercial scale.
“It is accepted you performed a limited role under direction and were a relatively naive young man, but I’m acutely conscious you had motivation in order to pay off a debt incurred by being brought into the country illegally a month before.
Nikoci was jailed for 10 months but will soon be eligible for release, having served almost half in custody since his arrest.
Judge Peters said his possible deportation would be a matter for the UK Border Agency.
His arrest came during a week of action in Ipswich and Felixstowe which saw eight other arrests made for a variety of offences, including being concerned in the supply of drugs, burglary and possession with intent to supply.
Code-named Operation Drawbridge, the crackdown also saw officers from the Scorpion and Sentinel teams, CID and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit play a key role in enforcement, while council trading standards officers also checked 19 licensed premises in Ipswich, leading to 20 bottles of alcohol and spirits with unpaid duty being seized.
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