A CANNABIS gardener claimed he didn't know the drug was illegal.

Blackburn magistrates heard Albanian Sergio Mikelaj had come to the UK seeking asylum and had taken on the task of tending 28 plants to repay a debt.

Mikelaj, 21, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to producing cannabis. He was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison suspended for 12 months.

Andy Robinson, prosecuting, said police executed a search warrant at a house in Mount Terrace, Rawtenstall. They found 28 cannabis plants and the defendant was arrested in the house.

He said he and the plants had been moved into the address about a week ago. He was told what to do and given £200 to buy food.

"He said he was working to pay off a debt," said Mr Robinson.

Daniel Frazer, defending, said his client had no connections to this area and had no previous convictions.

"He claims he was unaware that cannabis was illegal," said Mr Frazer. "He came to the UK as a juvenile seeking asylum which was granted and he is in touch with the Home Offoce."