How routine traffic stop brought Kettering cannabis factory gardener to justice
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A cannabis grower who tended to plants at an abandoned Kettering curry house was finally caught after a routine traffic stop more than 100 miles away.
Detectives knew Pjerin Prenga was involved in the commercial set-up at Kettering Balti House in Queen Street – worth up to £358,000 – because they found his passport there in 2019.
Officers spent all day bagging the plants – but it wasn’t until a year later that they finally got their man in Bromley.
On Wednesday (April 27) the 31-year-old was spared from prison after a court heard he had been pressured by people traffickers and had since turned his life around.
Police were called to the former curry house at about 10.40pm on June 11, 2019, after reports of three people breaking in but Northampton Crown Court heard their discovery was not what they expected.
Prosecuting, Sinjin Bulbring said: "On arrival at the address police found it to be insecure but located no persons there.
"However, officers did find a large production of cannabis inside."
A total of 427 plants were found, at various stages of growth, valued at between £119,000 and £358,000. Police also found a passport in Prenga's name as well as a phone and a laptop. An expert report concluded the site had been used for commercial cannabis production.
The court heard police spoke to the site's leaseholder and were told the rent had been paid up front for six months in January by another man.
But it wasn’t until July 16 the following year that they made a significant breakthrough.
Prenga, of Bounds Green in North London, was arrested in a routine traffic stop and was taken into custody. Two phones were found on him and one had a picture of him with what appeared to be a cannabis grow.
He gave officers a pre-prepared statement and said he had lost his passport a few years ago, had been living in Tottenham and had not been involved in drug production.
The Albanian, who took a bag into the dock anticipating a prison sentence, later admitted a charge of producing cannabis and said he watered the plants because he owed debt to people smugglers who transported him to the UK.
Mitigating, Charles Hannaford said: "He was pressured in that the people traffickers knew where his family are in Albania."
Mr Hannaford said that Prenga had no previous convictions, made no money from the drugs and had turned his life around. He now has leave to remain in the UK and a conditional job offer.
Mr Hannaford said a custodial sentence would make life very difficult for his young family.
He added: "He accepts what he did was wrong. He is sorry. He had no choice and he has changed."
Her Honour Judge Adrienne Lucking QC suspended Prenga’s eight-month prison sentence for two years.
She said it was appropriate to suspend the sentence as there was a realistic prospect of rehabilitation, he was not a danger to the public and because of the impact prison would have on others.
She said: "People who set about growing cannabis prey on vulnerable people to look after them.
"Nevertheless, you knew what you were doing was illegal."
Prenga must also complete 250 hours of unpaid work.