‘Substantial’ cannabis farm operated above County Durham village barber’s shop

EVIDENCE of what appeared to have been a "substantial" cannabis farm was found by police in living quarters above a village barber's shop. As officers arrived to search the premises, in Ushaw Moor, on March 2 this year, two men present, Albanian nationals Ardit Bytyci and Anolit Domi, were in the throes of dismantling the growing equipment. Durham Crown Court heard that the property was let to Bytyci to run a hairdressing business.

But on the first floor it appeared that all four rooms had been used for the growth of cannabis, each with the electricity meter bypassed to provide a free power supply. Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, said in one of the rooms a bag was found containing 179 manicured cannabis buds, while there were widespread signs of a growing operation having taken place, with heating and lighting equipment, fans, empty plant pots, nutrient containers and other bags filled with plant 'detritus', including stalks and leaves. Some of the rooms also had plastic sheeting to cover the windows, which were also boarded up.

Mr Sabiston said the cannabis recovered weighed a total of 173.6g with an estimated total value of GBP1,700. Both men found at the scene were arrested and denied any involvement in the cannabis growing operation. Read more: Raided County Durham cannabis farms had GBP2m annual turnover

But, Mr Sabiston said their phones were seized by police and analysis of the data contained included photos of the cannabis and of the bypassed meter, which would be consistent with them showing their superiors in the chain that no electricity would have to be paid for. Mr Sabiston said the Crown believes that Bytyci performed a "significant role" in the farm, arranging for the letting of the premises, while Domi appeared to play a lesser role, involved in the dismantling of the equipment. Both men's fingerprints were recovered from the material found in the premises, while a van parked outside appeared to have been hired to remove the dismantled equipment.

Bytyci, 27, and his 24-year-old co-accused, whose addresses were given as Station Road, Ushaw Moor, previously denied being concerned in the production of a class B drug. But, on the day of their scheduled trial the charge was put again and both changed plea, admitting the offence. Tony Davis, for Bytyci, told the court: "The reality is that he should have accepted it earlier, but he was unable to do so.

"He was a trusted employee, running the shop as a barber, and lived a relatively ordinary, quiet existence, spending most of his time with his girlfriend until others put pressure on him to have access to that upstairs flat." Mr Davis said Bytyci, of previous good character, is in the UK illegally, but has enlisted immigration lawyers to help his case. Lewis Kerr, for Domi, said he was living in Wood Green, in London, and moved to the North East for a short time to borrow money, but became involved helping to load cannabis and equipment into the truck.

"He had been here illegally trying to make a better life, but he will now have to go back to Albania." Judge Ray Singh told the pair: "You have tried to lie your way out of responsibility. "The evidence was very strong case against both of you and I have no idea why you tried to deny these matters.

"The ramifications of that are that simple. I can only reduce the sentence by ten per cent, whereas if you admitted it from the outset, it would have been 33-per cent. "Mr Bytyci, you were hired to run the barber shop downstairs, but the more profitable part of your enterprise was the cannabis you grew upstairs.

"There was a significant growth of cannabis going on. Someone, no doubt higher up the chain than you, invested a lot in this enterprise. "That equipment doesn't come cheap and they would have expected a return on that outlay."

Imposing a 21-month prison sentence on Bytyci and nine months on Domi, Judge Singh said they would spend the first half of their sentences in custody, "and thereafter it's for the Home Office to decide what to do with you." The judge also ordered destruction of the recovered cannabis and growing paraphernalia. Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here. For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here. Have you got a story for us?

Contact our newsdesk on [email protected] or contact 01325 505054