An out-of-work chef who fell into dealing drugs after running up a cocaine debt was found in a Banbury cannabis factory.
But Recorder John Bate-Williams allowed 30-year-old Mateo Dedej to walk from court on a suspended sentence, noting how much pressure the drug farmer had come under from the gangsters who had forced him to tend the plants.
The judge quoted from Dedej’s own interview after he was arrested in the Edmunds Road drugs factory on May 12.
“They [the gang] prey on vulnerable people. They keep duress and pressure and carry on exploiting people. They only bring food and decide not to pay me or give me money,” he told officers.
Sentencing him to 15 months’ imprisonment suspended for a year-and-a-half, Recorder Bate-Williams said: “This was clearly a very professional enterprise. I have seen the photographs. This was not a simple attempt to cultivate cannabis for personal use.”
The factory was discovered when police smashed down the doors of the property in Edmunds Road and found Dedej trying to flee round the back of the house.
Inside, there were a total of 61 cannabis plants growing under a string of heat lamps in two rooms. Pots and soil in the living room pointed to evidence of an earlier harvest.
Prosecutor Jonathan Stone told Oxford Crown Court on Friday that the cannabis plants seized would have produced around 3.5kgs of the class B drug.
The drugs had been valued at £18,000 if sold on the wholesale market but could have been worth £45,000 if broken down into smaller deals for sale on the street.
The court heard Dedej was on bail at the time, having been arrested in Green Lane, Ilford, in June 2020 after police officers in an unmarked car spotted him dealing cannabis from a vehicle.
The dealer was caught red-handed with his customer in the passenger seat, almost £300 in cash in his pocket and cannabis and cocaine in the car.
Dedej, of Edmunds Road, Banbury, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to possession with intent to supply cannabis, cultivation of the class B drug and possession of cocaine. He had no previous convictions.
Mitigating, Dana Bilan said her client had moved from Albania to Italy aged nine. Having completed his education in European country he trained as a chef then came to the UK illegally.
The restaurant worker, who was nursing a £120-a-day cocaine habit, lost his job as a London chef during lockdown and was forced into the drugs trade.
The judge ordered Dedej complete 100 hours of unpaid work and up to 10 rehabilitation activity requirement days. “You asked through your advocate for one last chance. This is that last chance,” he said.
This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire’s court and crime reporter.
To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk
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