POLICE responding to a concern for welfare call ending up finding a Vietnamese fisherman growing £84,500 of cannabis.

Burnley Crown Court heard how police had gone to the three-bedroom terraced property in Railway Road, Nelson, at 5.30am on September 3 and found Son Huu Cao, 150 cannabis plants and a crate of beer.

Prosecuting, Stephen Parker said: “The police went to the front door and knocked. There was no answer. They made to the rear of the property and forced the door using a door enforcer.

“They heard a male voice coming from the downstairs front room. Upon going into that room they saw this defendant on a mattress. The police tried to communicate with him in English but it was apparent he had little or no understanding of it. Upon police discovering a cannabis production set up in that house the defendant was arrested.”

Mr Parker said there were 72 cannabis plants across three bedrooms and 78 in the loft, with a yield of 6.675 kilos. Police said that had a street value of £84,500.

Cao was the only person in the house and officers found a mobile phone, a phone charger, keys to the front and back doors, a fully-stocked fridge and a crate of beer.

Mr Parker said on the phone were messages to what were thought to be human traffickers about illegally bringing Cao’s wife and daughter to the United Kingdom, including instructions from the defendant about ensuring they went to at least three Far East countries first and got their passports stamped.

Cao, 32, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of cannabis.

He had worked as a fisherman in Vietnam but fled to China in the summer of 2016 after attending an anti-government protest. After hearing others who attended the protest were being arrested, and some dying in prison, he feared for his life if he returned to his homeland.

He stayed in China for a further three months and paid traffickers $10,000 to be transported to Poland or France. He said he was surprised to be transported to the UK and told the price had risen to $30,000 and he would have to work it off.

Initially transporting boxes and parcels, Cao said he was given food and clothes and told stay in a particular house when not working. After eight weeks he said he left the house to seek help but was found by the traffickers and beaten.

He said this summer he was taken to the house in Nelson where he was told over the phone by a Vietnamese man how to cultivate cannabis, something he had never done.

He said he never attempted to contact the authorities because he was in the UK illegally, had a poor grasp of the English language and he feared for his safety and his family's.

Defending, Kevin Donnelly said his client wished to stay in the UK, despite knowing the precarious position he had put himself in with the migration authorities as a result of his inevitable prison sentence, and hoped to bring his wife and four-year-old daughter over as well.

Mr Donnelly said: “There are factors in this case which will cause the court to have some sympathy with the defendant. He has been through many troubles in his life in recent years.”

Jailing Cao for two years, Judge Sara Dodd said: “I know how it was that you came to be in this house in Nelson. However this was a significant production of cannabis.

“Whilst your role was to no doubt care for the plants and probably to protect the property you were not a prisoner in that house. You had or must have expected access to funds to bring your family to this country.”