Two illegal immigrants have been jailed after being caught running a massive cannabis factory in Exminster to pay off their debts to people smugglers. 

Albanian born Adelajdi Licaj and Valerian Ndreca both entered Britain on small boats which crossed the English Channel last year. 

Within months, they were working at the converted industrial unit in Exminster.

They climbed on the roof to try to escape police when it was raided but were arrested. They are likely to be deported after finishing their sentences.

The police found 705 cannabis plants in five growing spaces at the unit in Station Road where both men had been living. It was professionally equipped with high-tech growing equipment, sealed wall, lights and ventilation.

The plants had a potential wholesale value of between £79,000 and £237,000 and the operation was capable of producing several crops a year. 

A police drug expert estimated the annual value of its output at £1.7 million. 

Licaj and Ndreca, both 28 and of Station Road, Exminster, admitted production of cannabis and were both jailed for two years and four months by Judge Stephen Climie at Exeter Crown Court. 

He said: ‘This was not their operation. They entered the UK unlawfully and were looking to repay travelling debts associated with that illegal immigration by carrying out this work.

‘The starting point for the sentence must be raised because at the time they were in the country illegally.’

Miss Beth Rickerby, prosecuting, said police raided the unit on a small industrial estate and arrested the men on the roof. The operation was professionally equipped with five insulated rooms and was being run on a commercial-scale.

Mr Stephen Nunn, representing both men, said they are likely to be deported. 

He said: ‘They did not travel together but have a similar background. They came here hoping for a better time and to earn money to send home to their families.

‘In doing so, they incurred debts for their transport across the English Channel. It is quite clear they knew they had no other option for repayment.’

Adelajdi Licaj
Adelajdi Licaj (MDA Devon and Cornwall Police )
Valerian Ndreca
Valerian Ndreca (MDa Devon and Cornwall police )