Northern Ireland

Greyabbey cannabis factory smell 'hidden by extractors'

A sophisticated extraction system was used to stop any smell coming from a £500,000 cannabis factory above a Chinese restaurant, a court has heard.

Equipment costing £20,000 had been installed in eight upstairs rooms at the premises in Greyabbey, County Down, prosecutors said.

Phat Suong Chim, 48, of Main Street in the village, denies charges of cultivating cannabis and possession with intent to supply.

He was refused bail.

The restaurant owner claims to have rented out the rooms where the drugs were found without any knowledge of what was going on.

Officers uncovered the large-scale growing operation after forcing their way into quarters above the New White Satin restaurant on 23 August.

Plants, at various stages of growth, with an estimated street value of between £350,000 and £500,000 were seized.

'Befriended'

Prosecution counsel said: "When police initially entered the downstairs of the premises you would not have known from the smell there was anything untoward.

"That's contrary to the experiences of police and is the result of this sophisticated extraction system."

Well-organised electricity bypass methods were also in place, with the court told that a power supplier is owed around £10,000.

A Vietnamese woman found during the searches told police she had been brought to Northern Ireland by a man she did not know.

She claimed she was then befriended by an older man she referred to as 'uncle', given lodgings and work in the cannabis factory, the court heard.

"She said she never regarded herself as a prisoner and was never held against her will," counsel added.

"She said she was in possession of a key to the premises and taken shopping by 'uncle' for items for herself and items for the factory."

Defence counsel argued that Phat Suong Chim had no access to the rooms above the restaurant after his tenant moved in and changed the locks.

"There is no evidence he had possession or control (of the drugs)," he said.

According to the barrister his client, who is originally from Vietnam, is now a British citizen who has lived in the UK for more than 20 years, moving to Northern Ireland from Birmingham in April.

Bail was refused due to the risk of any further offences or interference with the police investigation.

The judge said: "There is in this case clearly a prima facie case against the applicant who is the owner or leaseholder of premises in which a substantial quantity of drugs was involved."