Man jailed after commercial cannabis farm found in empty Jarrow pub

A man has been jailed after police found a commercial-scale cannabis farm when they raided a vacant pub.

Officers attended the Queens Arms in Jarrow in July and forced entry into the bar, which has a flat above.

Newcastle Crown Court heard two men were caught trying to escape the building, where 377 "healthy" cannabis plants were found upstairs.

The court heard the electricity supply to the building had been bypassed.

Qemal Ahmetaj.

One of the men escaped from police custody and remains on the run.

Qemal Ahmetaj, 50, an Albanian national, of no fixed address, who refused to give his details when he was detained, admitted producing cannabis.

Prosecutor Michael Bunch told the court: "He said he had been involved, for a short period of time, in watering the plants.

"He said he was not involved in setting up the farm.

"His role was to water plants in return for modest payment."

Mr Bunch said the plants found inside the property were at varying stages of growth and one officer said they were the "healthiest he had seen".

Gavin Doig, defending, said Ahmetaj who has no criminal record, is "likely to be deported" and has no right to remain in the UK.

Mr Doig added: "It is very unfortunate when a man his age finds himself in court in any country, especially when it is for the first time."

Mr Recorder Anthony Dunne sentenced Ahmetaj to 12 months behind bars.

The judge told him it was not he who would have profitted from the operation, but it was still a serious offence.

"There were 377 cannabis plants growing in a number of different rooms, the electricity had been bypassed,” he said.

"It seemed someone had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to set up this operation.

"That person no doubt expected a significant return on their investment.

"However, that person was not you.

"You were there simply to water the cannabis plants in return for modest payment and you were being given instructions by someone else.

"It is still a serious offence."

The judge said the cannabis that was seized, which was "sufficient for commercial use" will be destroyed.

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