A “GARDENER” was sent from London to Leigh and forced to work in a cannabis farm to clear his debts after his family were threatened.

Ervin Hoxhaj, originally from Albania, has been spared jail after he was found in a police raid at a property in Hillside, Leigh on September 20, 2019.

The 27-year-old, now of Eastwood Road North, Leigh, had been tasked with watering 101 of the 317 cannabis plants found in the home.

Basildon Crown Court heard on Friday that Hoxhaj had previously been working at a car wash in London in “dismal” conditions and had been offered a chance to earn more money tending the plants.

He was then transported to Leigh and instructed to water the plants twice a day.

Judge Samantha Leigh told Hoxhaj: “You were working in a car wash in dismal conditions, you were offered an opportunity to earn more and have somewhere to stay.

“You were also receiving threats back in Albania made to your family to pay off a debt.”

Following the police raid, it was estimated the street value of the drugs was anywhere between £88,000 and £266,000.

Hoxhaj made full admissions to the police and said he had been at the property for around two months prior to the raid.

He admitted one count of producing cannabis.

Mitigating, Shazia Malik highlighted that there had been a delay in the raid and court appearance but he had not offended again and had found himself stable accommodation.

Ms Malik said there was an “element of exploitation” and he previously worked 14 hours a day in the car wash, earning just £13.

She added: “He is unable to return to Albania due to fears of the reprisals of the debts.”

Hoxhaj was handed a suspended 16 month sentence, 200 hours unpaid work and 30 days rehabilitation.