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Crime in Moray: Buckie cannabis farmer jailed

By Ali Morrison

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A large police presence at the Highlander Hotel on Buckie's East Church Street in the early evening of Sunday, September 20. Picture: Eric Cormack.
A large police presence at the Highlander Hotel on Buckie's East Church Street in the early evening of Sunday, September 20. Picture: Eric Cormack.

A Vietnamese man has been sent to prison following the discovery of nearly £1million of cannabis at a former hotel in Buckie.

The huge haul was found in September 2020 after parents whose children attend a nearby primary school reported unusual smells emanating from inside the Highlander Hotel.

The police subsequently obtained a search warrant for the premises which had not been open since 2019.

As officers moved in they encountered a pair of men in the building who made a brief escape by smashing through a glass door.

Both Thong Nguyn (35) and Chien Van Le (28) were arrested and found to be illegal immigrants.

It was eventually accepted that the older of the pair was the victim of human-trafficking.

He is now back in Vietnam having been deported rather than prosecuted.

Meanwhile, his co-accused was kept in custody for almost 22 months while it was determined whether or not he had come to Britain voluntarily.

Sheriffs presiding over the case had grown increasingly impatient with the Home Office for failing to come to a conclusion.

However, at Inverness Sheriff Court today Van Le decided to plead guilty to being concerned in the production and supply of cannabis.

Defence solicitor Matthew O'Neill said his client had arranged through people smugglers to travel via Russia, Poland and France, in order to obtain work within the UK.

The married father-of-two couldn't get employment because of his illegal status, but was given the opportunity work in Buckie by a Vietnamese couple he met in London.

Mr O'Neill added: "He was told that individuals with links to the Asian community had an operation in the Highlander Hotel set up to grow what he was told was medicine.

"He indicated that he should have been aware that this was not a legal operation but in his position he felt he had to take it."

Police officers clearing out drug-making equipment.
Police officers clearing out drug-making equipment.

The cannabis farm was located within 10 rooms of the three-storey former hotel.

Meanwhile, another room, stacked with electrical equipment, was used to dry out the leaves which were hanging from the ceiling and laid out across the floor.

Following the raid, a dozen evidence bags filled with drugs were packed into the back of a police van, with officers appearing to struggle to find space for them all.

Fiscal depute David Morton stated 1140 cannabis plants were recovered, of which 300 were found to be worth nothing.

The remaining plants were valued at between £200 and £810, giving an overall street value of £923,000.

After hearing the facts, Sheriff Robert Macdonald jailed Van Le for 38 months.

This sentence was backdated to September 22, 2020.

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