Shock for electrician at cannabis factory find on estate

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An electrician discovered a cannabis factory on a Yorkshire industrial estate, where more than 900 plants were growing, when he went to the wrong unit to check a fault.

Michael Smith, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court yesterday the workman was sent in December 2010 to another unit on the Seacroft Industrial Estate in Leeds but mistook the number and to his surprise walked into the illegal factory in Coal Road, Whinmoor.

Within the unit police then found a wooden frame covered with black plastic which had been divided into four rooms inside, two of which had mature plants growing.

The 329 plants had an estimated yield of 25.5 kilogrammes with a street value of £218,000. There was also a room equipped with three single beds, a freezer and heaters for those tending to the plants.

Among the items discovered was a casino membership card in the name of Zhang Chen and he was circulated as wanted after his fingerprints were also found on a heater and a soft drink bottle in the living area.

Mr Smith told the court Chen arrived from China in 2006 and became an illegal immigrant after he was refused asylum.

In May 2010 a woman had signed a five-year lease for the unit purporting to run a firm called Plastic Recycling but only two payments had been made before the electrician’s discovery.

Chen, 41, was eventually arrested in October at an address in Selwyn Street, Rotherham, after a report to police that someone was living in a flat above a shop that was unfit for human habitation.

Mr Smith said they discovered Chen living in squalid conditions. Initially he gave a false name and was arrested on immigration offences but when taken to the police station gave his true name although when asked about the cannabis factory denied ever having been in Seacroft.

Three other men have already been sentenced for their part in the factory.

Chen yesterday pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of cannabis and was jailed for 22 months.

The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier QC said Chen was unlawfully in the country when working as a gardener at the factory. “You were caught because your fingerprints were left at the scene.”