Cannabis farmer caught in Ashington is jailed for six months

A judge urged an Albanian cannabis farmer who has been jailed and faces deportation to pass on a warning to others in his homeland about the perils of illegal entry into the UK.
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Mahmut Selimaj was caught climbing out of the roof of a commercial scale drugs factory in Ashington last December, where 173 cannabis plants were growing.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 26-year-old had entered Britain illegally, with the hope of finding work and a good life, but was left in debt to and then exploited by criminal gangs.

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Selimaj, who had the assistance of an interpreter at the hearing, has now been jailed for six months and faces deportation back to Albania.

Mahmut Selimaj. Picture: Northumbria PoliceMahmut Selimaj. Picture: Northumbria Police
Mahmut Selimaj. Picture: Northumbria Police

Mr Recorder Toby Hedworth KC told him: "You came to the UK unlawfully but I am satisfied you came with a view to leading a legitimate life, working hard.

"Unfortunately, as these courts know only too well, the debt that so often is connected to bringing you to the UK unlawfully means that you are vulnerable to exploitation by the same criminal gangs and that, I am satisfied, is what happened in your case.”

Recorder Hedworth said he accepted the time Selimaj has spent on remand since his arrest would have been "particularly difficult".

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The recorder added: "It is likely you will be released in the very near future.

"I would also anticipate you will then be repatriated to Albania as soon as possible.

"Hopefully, that will bring an end to this unhappy chapter in your life but will also give you the opportunity to tell others in Albania that travelling to the UK unlawfully is likely to lead not only to substantial debt to criminal gangs but also them being exploited in the same what that you were and they would be much better advised not to come in the first place."

Selimaj, of no fixed address, admitted production of a controlled drug at an earlier hearing.

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Prosecutor Mairi Clancy said when police arrived at the building on December 22 Selimaj was seen pushing out roof tiles and "climbing through the roof" to escape.

No value was given for the cannabis plants that were found but Miss Clancy said the operation was capable of producing "significant quantities for commercial sale".

Pictures show plants growing inside the building, with the assistance of specialist equipment including heating and lighting.

Miss Clancy said Selimaj entered the UK illegally and submitted a claim for asylum in September 2022 but it was withdrawn in April 2023 due to his "lack of compliance".

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Andrew Walker, defending, said: "It is a sadly familiar tale. He didn't come to the UK to sit in a house as part of someone else's criminal enterprise.

"He naively hoped he could work hard for reasonable pay.

"Those who come to this country are often indebted and their indebtedness often renders them fit for exploitation.

"He doesn't resist any attempt to return him to his native Albania. He believes he has signed papers that will effect that once his sentence is served."

Mr Walker said Selimaj has endured three months on remand which were difficult due to the language barrier and prison conditions, which can be stringent and overcrowded.