An illegal Chinese immigrant, who was acting as “gardener” to a cannabis farm in a cellar beneath an Edinburgh pub, has been jailed for 27 months.
The drugs factory was discovered when police, searching for a stolen computer, found 353 cannabis plants valued at between £52,950 and £150,856 in a room in the cellar area.
Forty-one-year old Ming Lee pleaded guilty previously at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to producing cannabis at the Bonnington Bridge Bar in Newhaven Road on 21 May this year. Sentence was deferred until today for reports.
Fiscal Depute, Alasdair MacLeod, said as the police were searching the cellar area they found two locked doors. The licencee told them he did not have the key and whatever was behind the doors did not belong to him.
The officers forced one of the doors and found Lee asleep in an office area. He had a key on him and told the police it was for a suitcase.
However, they found it opened the other door and behind that they discovered the cannabis factory.
Lee told the police he was being paid £100 a week to clean the cellar and had been told to lock the door of the room where the cannabis was growing. He said he was ordered to work at night and sleep during the day and not to go into the bar. Lee said he was only allowed to go up to the bar toilet when the pub was closed and that he had been in the cellar for two weeks.
Mr MacLeod said: “It is accepted by The Crown that the accused was acting in the role of gardener”.
Addressing Sheriff William Holligan, Lee’s defence agent, Graeme Runcie, described his client as “a drugs slave”. Lee, he said, had arrived in Britain in 2000 seeking asylum. He had worked in Liverpool and Manchester before being offered employment as a cleaner in the bar in Edinburgh.
“It soon became apparent there were other duties he would be responsible for which amounted to watering the cannabis plants,” Mr Runcie said.
Lee, he added, had been told to water the plants by “the boss”. Mr Runcie said Lee was “a virtual prisoner” in the cellar. He was living in an office measuring six feet by five and told not to enter the pub until it was closed. The only access he had to the bar was a hatch behind the bar.
Mr Runcie described the growing of the plants as “a sophisticated, commercial exercise.” It was clear from police photographs that the cultivation had commenced prior to Lee becoming resident in the cellar, but the lawyer accepted that Lee had played a minor part in the cultivation.
Lee, he said, had made no personal gain from the matter and had not been paid for the time he spent in the cellar. “He was living in almost barbaric conditions. A drugs slave”.
Sentencing Lee, Sheriff Holligan said he took into account a number of factors relating to Lee’s personal circumstances and the nature and degree of his involvement. He said he was reducing a sentence of three years to one of 27 months, backdated to May of this year.