Northern Ireland

Man jailed for six years for his involvement in several cannabis factories

A Chinese man convicted of involvement in the management of six large scale cannabis factories has been jailed for six years.

Cannabis plants were found at several locations during police searches.

Sheng Lee, 29, whose address was given as c/o Maghaberry Prison, was found guilty of a number of charges last month.

Judge Tom Burgess told Belfast Crown Court that Lee was a "significant player" in the operation.

He told the illegal immigrant that although he could not determine his role specifically he believed "he was a significant player in whom quite clearly those at the top of the pyramid were content to place considerable trust".

He said while many men who were charged with cannabis cultivation on such a large scale were vulnerable men transported from China and put to work in "appalling conditions", he said Lee did not fall into that class as he had once bought an Audi car, was considering buying a BMW car and had the finances to be able to pay at least part of the rent on the six properties.

Outward appearances

At the end of his two week trial Lee was unanimously convicted of six counts of cultivating cannabis, five of causing criminal damage to the houses used as growing factories and four charges of dishonestly using electricity on dates between 25 January 2009 and 3 February 2010.

During the trial, the court heard how to the outside world, the residencies had the appearance of "nice houses" but that inside, they had been transformed into large scale cannabis factories.

In each of the houses which comprised of three in Belfast and one each in Bangor, Downpatrick and Comber, officers uncovered plant growing material and equipment including heat lamps, ventilation extraction fans and fertiliser.

The jury heard that Lee was linked to the properties after cops discovered tenancy agreements in his name in two of the houses, agreements which had the same contact telephone number as two of the other properties.

He was also linked by fingerprints being uncovered on bank statements and his DNA profile being found on a bottle of water in one of the properties.

Lee was arrested in Newry on 22 March 2010 and the court heard that when police searched the black BMW car he was in they found a brand of fertiliser which had also been found in a cannabis factory.

Misery

As well as the fertiliser there was a satellite navigation system in the car and when that was analysed, it was found to hold directions to the addresses in Comber, Downpatrick and Bangor in its memory.

On Tuesday, Judge Burgess paid tribute to the painstaking police investigation which uncovered so many strands of circumstantial evidence, stringing them together to bring Lee to justice and "bringing to an end operations that can cause so much misery in this community".

He warned that given the prevalence of such large scale cannabis growing operations, "sentences will not just reflect punishment but will also serve as a significant deterrent factor to send out a clear message that lengthy periods of imprisonment are going to be served".

While Lee, who has been living in the UK illegally since 1999, is an illegal immigrant, Judge Burgess said it was a decision for others to make whether he is deported at the end of his jail term.