Chinese national who grew cannabis to pay off gang debt is jailed
A Chinese man who claimed he was forced to grow cannabis to pay off a debt to a gang called 'Snakeheads', who smuggled him into the UK, was yesterday handed a 28-month prison sentence.
Dong Huang - who the Crown described as occupying a 'gardener' role within the drugs-growing operation - was caught in a house in Belfast with over 300 cannabis plants.
Passing sentence at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Sandra Crawford described the operation as "sophisticated" but said she accepted Huang (26) was at the bottom end of the scale and was not the organiser or the one to benefit financially.
Huang, who Judge Crawford pointed out was "in effect caught red-handed", was informed he will serve half his sentence in prison with the remaining 14 months spent on supervised licence upon his release.
Prior to sentence being passed, a Crown prosecutor told the court that a house at Eia Street in the Cliftonville area of north Belfast was searched by police on October 29 last year under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
During the search, officers discovered that the top floor of the property was being used to grow cannabis plants.
Police also noticed a hole in the wall of one of the upper rooms, and further investigations revealed that a hole had been knocked into the adjoining property, which was derelict and which was also being used to grow cannabis plants.
The prosecutor said the 316 plants were estimated to have a street value of around £160,000. He also revealed that electricity was unlawfully being diverted into the property to facilitate the growing operation.
Huang and a co-accused not before the court were arrested, and during interview Huang initially denied knowing about the drugs operation. However, he relented and confirmed he had been staying at Eia Street for around a week before the police search. He later pleaded guilty to cultivating cannabis, and also using electricity dishonestly.
Huang's solicitor Andrew Millar confirmed that his client had been brought to the UK by a 'Snakeheads' gang who smuggled him into the UK but then deceived him. Huang lived at home with his parents in China until aged 17, when he used the assistance of the gang to come to the UK in 2007.
Mr Millar said the plan was for Huang to work and send money back to his parents, but when he arrived in the UK he was "deceived by the Snakeheads" who told him he would have to work to pay off a £30,000 debt to them.
The solicitor said Huang found himself "living a fairly transient lifestyle" working in various restaurants and takeaways in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, before he was brought to Belfast "where the cannabis factory had already been established... and he was told he would receive instructions and training in how to cultivate cannabis plants."
Mr Millar told the court that Huang felt he was acting under a certain degree of duress, but he accepted he played a 'gardener' role tending the plants "under the instruction of others."