Illegal immigrant jailed for growing £1m cannabis plants in Magherafelt, Carrickmore and Mill Isle

The courthouse at Bishop Street, Derry.
The courthouse at Bishop Street, Derry.
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A Chinese national who cultivated cannabis with a street value of £1 million at three different locations in Northern Ireland has been jailed for two years and eight months.

Liang Sheng Wu, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to three charges of cultivating cannabis between September 2014 and May 2015.

Derry Crown Court heard it was accepted by the prosecution that Wu was a ‘gardener’ for the cannabis plants.

The 51-year-old tended to the plants at three locations and made sure they had sufficient food and heat.

The court was told each of the cannabis factories were located in commercial style warehouses.

The first cannabis factory searched by police was in Carrickmore, near Omagh.

Officers found 400 cannabis plants. However, no one was present on the property.

Police searched a second commercial warehouse in Mill Isle, Co Down and seized a further 800 cannabis plants. Again no one was present in the warehouse.

The third search was carried out in May, last year in Knockloughrim, Magherafelt and another 800 plants were seized.

Wu and a co-accused, who has since absconded, were arrested at the scene.

The court heard the estimated street value of the 2,000 plants is in the region of £1,000,000.

During police interview, Wu made full admissions to his involvement in the gardening side of the operation.

He was later connected to the two other warehouses through fingerprint and DNA evidence.

A defence barrister told the court his client moved to Northern Ireland on a six month visa in 2006.

He initially worked in a Chinese take-away and then gained employment in a local fish factory.

The barrister said once the fish factory closed down, the 51-year-old was offered employment ‘by the owner of a cannabis factory’.

He added that the ‘temptation to have money in his pocket and a roof over his head was too much’ for Wu to turn down.

The barrister told the court his client ‘would not have known what to do to maximise the money from these plants’.

However, he said Wu accepts this was a ‘very significant enterprise’.

It was revealed to the court the 51-year-old is likely to be deported after serving his sentence.

Passing sentence, Judge Philip Babington said ‘this was a sophisticated criminal operation with the potential to make those in charge a great deal of money’.

He said that Wu was taken to each premises in the hours of darkness and was visiting by more senior people on occasion who brought essentials like food.

The judge said it was ‘more than probable’ the same gang were involved in each cannabis factory.

The judge imposed a determinate sentence of two years eight months, half of which will be spent in custody and half on licence.