AN ILLEGAL immigrant who operated a cannabis farm on the outskirts of York is today behind bars.

Leontjef Zenelej, 26, claimed he had been trafficked from his native Albania and forced to work in the secluded house just off Boroughbridge Road.

But after hearing how he had gone sightseeing around England with his girlfriend while tending to the cannabis farm, a jury rejected his claim that he was a modern slave and found him guilty.

Zenelej, of Manchester Street, Rochdale, had denied a charge of producing cannabis between June 15, 2016 and November 19, 2016.

Following his conviction he was remanded in custody to be sentenced with Minazur Rahman at the end of the month.

Rahman, 28, of Mexborough Street, Chapeltown, Leeds, pleaded guilty to allowing the house to be used for growing cannabis at the start of the trial.

Prosecuting, David Ward said police found 49 plants together with growing equipment in the house close to the A59 Outer Ring Road roundabout, when they raided it in November 2018.

They also found £320 in cash, a phone containing a video of Zenelej counting out money, false Rumanian and Italian ID documents, a tenancy agreement with Zenelej's fingerprints on it and signs that he and his girlfriend had been living there.

His girlfriend was not prosecuted.

Giving evidence, Zenelej claimed he had been 21 when he decided to come to the UK. A man he called “Wolf” had agreed to provide false documents and transport for 6,000 euros.

“You are not allowed to travel to the UK using an Albanian passport,” he said.

He described a months-long journey via six countries until he entered the UK on a false Rumanian ID document by hiding with others in a coach and a lorry.

He claimed the organisers had then made him work on a Peterborough cannabis farm to pay for his journey.

When police arrested him there, he skipped bail before, he said: "travelling here and there with no purpose" .

He claimed he and his family were threatened to make him work on the York farm.