THREE Vietnamese men have been jailed for their part in the biggest ever cannabis factory siezed in Coventry.
More than 2,000 plants with a street value of up to £1.5million were discovered in a disused former indoor market in Riley Square, Bell Green last month.
Seven rooms in the premises were being used for growing cannabis. They were equipped with hydroponic systems, growing lights and ventilation, complete with carbon filters to get rid of the smell and the electricity supply had been diverted.
Both Anh Hoang, 20, and Su Nguyen, 50, were arrested when police raised the market, while Dat Nguyen, 47, was taken to hospital after attempting to escape by jumping off a 20-foot roof.
All three men pleaded guilty to producing cannabis at Warwick Crown Court in February.
Hoang was jailed for 20 months, while the two older men, both of no fixed address, were sentenced to two years and all three will be deported after serving their sentences.
Prosecutor Justin Jarmola said the police executed a drugs warrant at the disused Riley Square indoor market 8.45pm on February 4 and made Coventry’s ‘largest seizure of cannabis ever.’
He said there were 300 empty pots from which 18 bags of skunk cannabis had been harvested weighing just under 30 kilos, and a total of 2,145 growing plants capable of producing a further 117 kilos of ‘flowering tops.’
The overall value of the crop would have been around £600,000 if sold in one kilo weights – or up to £1.5m in one-gram street-level deals.
The defendants were seen as the ‘lowest link in the chain’ and recorder Thomas Rochford commented that they were ‘little short of prisoners, and were being exploited’.
The court heard how Dat Nguyen was approached to help harvest the crop for £400, although he told police he had been at the factory for just four days and was not a ‘gardener’ like the others.
Speaking for Dat, Ian Speed said: “He came to this country through an agent, and paid $3,000 with the expectation of work to send money back to his wife and children.
“But there is no work, unless it be in sweatshops and cannabis factories; and he’s never sent a penny back. He’s never earned a penny, just his food and keep.”
Su Nguyen came to the country seven years ago and was offered the opportunity to be a gardender for the enterprise although he did not know the extent of the operation.
Speaking for Su Nguyen, Nick Devine said: “He was taken to that unit, and there he remained for the next four months until he was arrested.
“He was told what to do and given food on a regular basis when someone further up the chain visited to check on progress.”
Hoang came to the country as a 15-year-old five years ago and before the police raid he had been at the address for ten days. He was asked to participate as a favour because the person who normally did the job as a cook was ill.
He took on a bigger role by assisting in turning on and off the lights and to assist in irrigating the plants.
Jailing the three, recorder Rochford told them: “I do accept in the case of each of you that you were playing very much a lesser role.
“You were little better than prisoners of those who were running the operation. Each one of you I regard as someone who had been exploited.”