Chinese gangsters forced taxi driver to set up drugs farm in abandoned Italian restaurant

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A taxi driver was forced to lease a closed-down restaurant building so it could be converted into a large scale cannabis farm.

Tehmoor Tariq rented the abandoned La Rossa in Fowler Street, South Shields, under the orders of oriental gangsters.

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Newcastle Crown Court heard the 38-year-old cabbie used a false identity to lease the building, which was later equipped with five separate cannabis growing areas with an estimated crop value of £150,000.

The court heard the loft had been split into three separate growing spaces housing hundreds of plants.

A store room and the ladies toilets were also used as growing areas.

A total of 488 plants, capable of producing skunk cannabis, were recovered when police raided the building in February 2014.

Tariq initially denied any involvement with the illegal enterprise but pleaded guilty to permitting the premises to be used for cannabis production.

The court heard the taxi-driving dad had been put "under pressure" by a Chinese passenger and his associates to take out the lease on the abandoned building.

It was when the owner of the premises was repeatedly denied access after a series of attempts that the police got involved.

Mr Recorder Paul Greaney QC told Tariq: "I accept you felt under a degree of pressure. You knew you were acquiring the premises for illegitimate purposes.

"You knew they were acquired so cannabis could be grown but I accept you did not know the growing would be on the scale that it was.

"This was an operation of some scale, capable of generating substantial sums of money. Just what was in the premises on the day of the raid was capable of generating £150,000 on the street."

The judge said Tariq, who now works as a chef and has never been in trouble before, is unlikely to offend again.

Tariq, formerly of Hugh Gardens, Newcastle, was sentenced to three months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with 100 hours unpaid work.

Jamie Adams, defending handed in references to Tariq's ordinarily positive character and said the cabbie had been pressured by a regular passenger to get involved, which has led to him moving jobs and home.

Mr Adams said: "It would never have crossed his mind to do anything like
this.
He has always worked long, unsociable hours."

The court heard Tariq received a £1,000, one-off payment for arranging the lease and had no further involvement.