Alleged gardener at £600k cannabis factory claims he was trafficked from Vietnam
AN alleged gardener at one of the biggest cannabis factories uncovered in Northern Ireland claims he was trafficked from Vietnam in the back of a lorry, the High Court has heard.
Prosecutors said the 23-year-old man is believed to have been living and working at a warehouse in Comber, Co Down where £600,000 worth of drugs were found.
He is to be interviewed by the PSNI's modern slavery unit next month in a bid to establish if there is any truth in his assertions, a judge was told.
The man cannot be named amid fears that revealing his identity could put him at risk from those who may have controlled him.
During a bail application today the court heard police discovered 1,200 cannabis plants at the industrial unit on the Glen Road in December last year.
Crown lawyer Mark Farrell claimed the illicit operation had yet to reach full capacity when it was disrupted.
"Police believe it was a growing concern in more ways than one," he said.
"It represents one of the largest ever seizures of herbal cannabis plants in recent years."
The accused was arrested on the premises where he had been working as a gardener, according to the prosecution.
Mr Farrell confirmed detectives believe he lived at the site, feeding and watering the plants.
Covert recordings allegedly show him being dropped off at the premises by others in charge.
"At interview he said he came to the UK from Vietnam illegally in the back of a lorry with other people, and then travelled to Northern Ireland by plane," Mr Farrell continued.
"The account he gave was that he was taken to these premises and received instructions on hydraulics, and how these plants would grow.
"He said there was a mixture of western European people and Vietnamese nationals involved in this."
According to his account he was given food, water and shelter, believing he had nowhere else to go.
The man, who faces charges of producing, cultivating and possessing cannabis with intent to supply, alleges he was trafficked, the court was told.
Although police expressed doubts over his claims, it was confirmed that the Home Office have preliminary indicated there may be grounds to believe him a victim of such activity.
Opposing bail, however, Mr Farrell claimed the man may flee if released.
Defence counsel Declan Quinn confirmed no address was currently available for his client.
Adjourning the application for that reason, Mr Justice Maguire insisted a "proper structure" is required to deal with the case.