Higham Ferrers cannabis gardener was paying back trafficker debt

He was caught with drugs worth more than £150,000

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 6:00 am

An illegal immigrant found tending to cannabis plants in Higham Ferrers was paying back a £15,000 debt to traffickers, a court heard.

Albanian national Drilon Kopaci, 31, was jailed for eight months at Northampton Crown Court yesterday (Tuesday) and is likely to be deported when he has served his sentence.

Kopaci had fled his homeland because he had got his Muslim girlfriend pregnant which, as a Catholic, was frowned upon and he had faced threats to himself and his family. The court heard he had feared for his life.

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Some of the plants found and Drilon Kopaci. Credit: East Northants Police Team

After making his way to Belgium he met a group of men who told him they could help him enter the UK illegally but, after finding work at a car wash, the traffickers caught up with him and told him he owed them £15,000 for getting him into the UK.

The court heard they took him to Milton Street and promised him £2,000 would be deducted from his debt each month if he stayed in a house and watered cannabis plants with their sophisticated set up.

But just a month in, at 8.55am on January 13, officers forced entry and found Kopaci with 124 plants across five rooms, a 1.28kg bag of dried cannabis and lights, transformers and fans.

The plants were worth £156,240 with the dried cannabis valued at between £8,500 and £17,000 on the streets.

Prosecutor Nia Frobisher said Kopaci, who was previously removed from the UK for entering illegally, was at the bottom rung of the cannabis production ladder.

She said: "He maintains that whilst he was responsible for watering the plants he had nothing to do with the equipment."

A vehicle had been seen on a number of occasions taking heaters to the property.

The court heard Kopaci was given food and drink to live in the property by his traffickers and was afraid to leave as they said they were watching the house.

However, to date he has made no official claim that he was the victim of modern slavery.

Mitigating, Peter Hunter said: "He makes no excuses for his role and wants to apologise.

"He was under extreme pressure."

Judge Rebecca Crane said: "I accept that there is genuine remorse on your part."