AN illegal immigrant who was running a South Tyneside cannabis farm collapsed in the dock after being sentenced to eight months in prison.
Pham Chau, 45, a Vietnamese national, told Newcastle Crown Court through a written statement that two men had kept her imprisoned in the house for two weeks, threatening to cut off her feet if she tried to escape.
But when police raided the property they found keys inside the house, meaning Chau could have left the premises at any time.
Eighty-six 3ft tall plants were found in the loft of the house in Talbot Road, South Shields, on December 16 last year, with a similar amount on 6in tall plants.
In her statement to police, Chau, of no fixed abode, said she travelled to the UK in March 2010 and originally took work as a babysitter in London.
After that employment ended, she was approached by two Vietnamese men in a cafe who offered her work in the North East looking after cannabis plants.
Chau was also found to be in possession of a computer and a mobile phone, which she said were already on the premises on her arrival, and £560 in cash, which she claimed were her savings from previous employment in London.
Paul Rowland, prosecuting, said: “Chau was found in the bedroom. The loft of the premises had been converted into a sophisticated cannabis farm.
“There were two separate growing areas and evidence of a previous crop having being harvested.
“The defendant was the only person on the premises. When the police entered the key was in the door.
“She is an illegal immigrant, she will probably be deported, it will depend on the sentence - a sentence of 12 months or more would result in deportation.”
Jane Foley, defending, said: “She (Chau) was asked to care for the cannabis plants and was initially locked inside of the premises until two to three days before the police arrived.
“She had been provided with the keys to the property, but she was threatened that if she ran off she would have her feet cut off.”
Chau sobbed uncontrollably in the dock as she pleaded guilty to producing a controlled drug of class B, via an interpreter.
Sentencing her to eight months in prison yesterday, Judge Penny Moreland said: “There was a total of 172 plants at different stages of development, and evidence of an earlier harvest having taken place.
Although Judge Moreland accepted Chau had played a lesser role in the crime, the judge said she had been motivated in her actions by financial gain, and the significant amount of plants warranted a custodial sentence.
Chau collapsed after being sentenced to eight months in prison, and had to be helped from the courtroom by three court officers and her interpreter.
In her absence, Judge Moreland imposed a victim surcharge of £100 and £460 court costs to total the amount found in Chau’s possession during her arrest.