STAFF at a retail complex helped police uncover a sophisticated cannabis farm when they reported rubbish dumped in their car park.
The bags, left outside Winfield‘s in Haslingden, contained remnants of cannabis shrubs and a letter addressed to occupants of a house on John Street, Oswaldtwistle.
When the property was searched, over 380 plants in various stages of growth were discovered.
Such was the scale of the operation it was estimated the electricity bill for a year would have been about £23,000.
A Vietnamese illegal immigrant was arrested and told officers he had been offered a job to look after the plants for £35 a day, plus free food and lodgings.
Vu Ro, 35, was jailed for six months by a judge at Preston Crown Court.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of being concerned in the production of the Class C drug.
The court heard how matters came to light after several bags of rubbish were dumped on the Winfield’s car park.
Mr John Woodward, prosecuting, said the bags contained what seemed to be the remnants of cannabis shrubs and cannabis waste.
One of the bags contained the letter to the address on John Street.
Winfield’s staff notified the police and a warrant was executed at the house on the morning of 6 November last year under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Mr Woodward told the court: “Police found what they described as a sophisticated cannabis factory. As well as 383 plants, there were 526 empty pots, indicating previous production.
“A great deal of effort had gone into producing these cannabis plants.
“Clearly, this operation had been going on for some considerable time. The defendant is the only person to be arrested but others have clearly been involved.”
Ro, who had been the only occupant of the address, told police he had only been in this country for around six days. He said he had been walking the streets of an unknown town and went into a Chinese restaurant for food.
He claimed that he only had Euros on him and a man offered to pay the bill and took him back to the Oswaldtwistle address. He was asked to water all the plants and look after them.
Ro said he had done that for the previous three days and four nights.
Mr Wayne Jackson, defending, said: “He was a pawn in a much bigger operation. It is as though the main operators have just disappeared.
“He had only been here a few days when he was recruited. He had arrived in a foreign country and had no money or accommodation. He wants to go home to Vietnam, to his family.”
The judge, Recorder John Benson QC, told Ro in passing sentence: “I accept that you took the opportunity to become involved in this because you were a desperate man, having come to this country as an illegal immigrant, with no money.
“You are just the type of person who is recruited by people who operated what was an extremely sophisticated and large- scale production of cannabis plants.
"But anybody who becomes involved in this type of production, on this scale, is bound to face serious consequences. I am sure that others much more sophisticated than you are behind the operation.”
The judge directed that the drugs and associated equipment seized should be destroyed.