A VIETNAMESE orphan who came to the UK in a container and was forced to work in a cannabis farm has been jailed for 27 months.
Hai Van Vo, who told police he was 16 but was later revealed to be 22 following investigations by the UK Borders Agency, will be booted out of the country after he serves his prison sentence, Inverness Sheriff Court heard on Tuesday.
Sheriff Margaret Neilson said she accepted Vo was not the "mastermind" behind the operation but simply a "link" in clearly organised criminal activity.
Vo was arrested after he was found hiding in the loft of a cottage adjacent to the Highland Food Stop in Gollanfield on July 18.
Police found a total of 300 plants, ranging from seedlings to mature plants, and a drugs expert predicated that given the expertise of the grower, each could reach maturity and the yield could have netted the crooks £90,000.
Depute fiscal Iain Smith said police learned about the cannabis factory after a member of the public said they could smell the drug coming from the property.
They were also suspicious that all of the windows were covered with tightly fitting blinds or curtains.
He said: "Police entered the property by force through the rear door. Officers noticed a strong smell of cannabis and there was a ventilation pipe coming from the ceiling attached to the fireplace.
"The bathroom was used to store compost and fertiliser. In the floor above there were a further two rooms. Within both of these the floor was completely covered with pots containing cannabis plants which were three feet tall. There were also various pots containing seedling and young cannabis plants."
Mr Smith said the cottage contained the typical equipment necessary to produce cannabis on a large scale.
He added: "It contained light units, electrical equipment, nutrients, soil and pots. The equipment and the use of the property indicated a considerable investment."
While being questioned by police, Vo said that he had no family in Vietnam or the UK.
Mr Smith told the court: "Mr Vos explanation was that he had come to the UK in a container with two friends. He doesnt know how long he has been in the UK and he was offered a job by a male he didnt know to look after some plants."
Defence solicitor Will Young told the court Vo spoke no English, was orphaned as an infant and by the age of 12, was living and working on the streets.
He said: "He was approached by traffickers and was offered the prospect of work in UK. He was brought to Inverness by individuals that he had previously been living with.
"He has been in this country without any form of passport."
The court heard Vo had no contact outside the cottage for months and his only possession was a lap top.
"His existence was a spartan one," said Mr Young.
"He slept on an old door as a bed. There was nothing on the lap top of an incriminating nature. He just used it to pass the days."
According to police statements, the cottage was rented out to two people, possibly Chinese, for £1500 a month.
"Monthly payments were made from a bank in London, explained Mr Young.
"The owners of the cottage had a lengthy conversation with an individual who spoke good English. They had no contact with Vo."
Sheriff Margaret Neilson backdated Vos sentence to July 20, when he was arrested.
She said: "The high court has made it clear that these types of crimes are to be treated very seriously by courts in this country."