Two Albanian men who admitted farming cannabis potentially worth more than half a million pounds in Whitehaven's former main post office have been jailed.
Officers became aware of the illegal drug factory, on Lowther Street, in the early hours of May 24, after being alerted to a suspicious white van parked in the area.
The driver, 28-year-old Xhona Leka was spoken to, ran off but was caught running along the A66, and the van was found to be full of freshly cut cannabis plants.
A total of 772 mature cannabis plants and 600 seedlings made up the huge cannabis farm which had a sophisticated electrical and air filtration systems and was set across three floors of the premises and 30 different rooms.
A partner-in-crime, 40-year-old Gjergi Braculla, was found asleep inside a nearby Nissan vehicle in which Albanian documents, a voltmeter and large fuses were also discovered.
Carlisle Crown Court heard the power supply to the building had been cut the previous day because of problems with the grid. And prosecutor Robert Wyn Jones said: “It is the Crown’s case the two defendants were harvesting the crop before it died.”
Although the prosecution initially alleged the cannabis farm was a “million pound enterprise” run by an organised crime gang, the street value of the illicit haul was said this afternoon to be potentially worth £542,000.
When initially quizzed, Leka claimed to be a painter and decorator, while his accomplice pretended to be in the town sightseeing.
It emerged both had lost construction jobs in southern of England before becoming involved in the illegal enterprise in a desperate bid to support themselves and their families.
Leka, of The Dene, Wembley, North London, and Braculla, of Archduke Place, New Maldon, Kingston upon Thames, both pleaded guilty to producing cannabis, while Leka further admitted possessing the class B drug with intent to supply.
Recorder Jeremy Lasker jailed the pair for 40 months each. “Someone had spent considerably effort in setting up a sophisticated farm. The two of you clearly had a significant role to play,” said the judge. “By virtue of good police work, really, this came to light.”