A MAN behind a "sophisticated" commercial cannabis farm worth nearly £50,000 on the outskirts of York has been jailed for three and a half years.

Judge Simon Hickey said the smell of cannabis coming from the property was so strong police officers on a routine call noticed it when they parked just off the York Outer Ring Road in the early hours of November 9, 2016.

They checked every car in the car park of the services on the A59/A1237 junction before realising it was coming from the house owned by Minazur Rahman, 28, and his brother in Boroughbridge Road.

David Ward, prosecuting, said inside the house officers found enough skunk cannabis and cannabis plants to make street deals worth nearly £50,000.

They also found illegal immigrant Leontjef Zenelej, 26, living in spartan conditions.

The judge said: "The premises had been turned into quite a sophisticated cannabis grow."

Zenelej had gained financially enough to travel with his girlfriend around Britain.

Zenelej, originally from Albania, was jailed for three and a half years. He denied a charge of producing cannabis,but was convicted by a jury last month.

Minazur Rahman, of Mexborough Street, Chapeltown, Leeds, pleaded guilty to allowing premises to be used for cannabis production on the basis he first became aware of the drug activity two months before the police found it, and did not report it.

He was given a 10-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months on condition he does 150 hours unpaid work and 10 days' rehabilitative activities.

He must also pay £500 prosecution costs.

For Zenelej, Elyas Patel said he suffered from depression and anxiety and prison would be very hard for him as he spoke very little English.

Mr Patel handed in a reference from an asylum and immigration charity saying Zenelej had helped other immigrants.

For Rahman, Giles Bridge said he was naive.

He had been paid £5,000 to correct the structural changes made to set up the cannabis farm, but they had cost £10,000 to repair.

He was now studying for a degree with the Open University in Leeds.

The case was the first successful prosecution for North Yorkshire Police in a case involving a claim of modern slavery.

Zenelej claimed to be a modern slave forced to work for an Albanian organised crime gang.

Had he succeeded in convincing the jury he was telling the truth, he would have been acquitted.

But the jury saw evidence of his extensive travel around the UK and evidence of him paying Rahman the £5,000.

Detective Leah Kitchen, of North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit who led the investigation, said: “North Yorkshire Police take allegations of modern slavery and human trafficking very seriously and they are thoroughly investigated.

"In this case the investigation proved that Mr Zenelej was not being truthful in his allegations that he was a victim of modern slavery and he was subsequently convicted.

"We would like to expel organised crime from our communities and would encourage everyone in supporting us by contacting the police or Crimestoppers with any information they think would assist."