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Court to summon Home Office official in Buckie hotel drugs case


By Court Reporter

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A SENIOR Home Office executive is to be summoned to give evidence in an ongoing Buckie cannabis farm case.

Police swoop on the Highlander Hotel in September 2020. Picture: Eric Cormack
Police swoop on the Highlander Hotel in September 2020. Picture: Eric Cormack

Police swooped on the former Highlander Hotel in the town on September 20, 2020 during which cannabis valued at £753,000 was recovered by officers.

Since then, a Vietnamese man arrested as a result of the raid – 28-year-old Chien Van Le – has been on remand for the past 18 months awaiting a decision as to whether he was human trafficked.

Although it is thought unlikely that Home Secretary Pritti Patel will be cited as a witness, Sheriff Ian Cruickshank suggested a head of department be called so Le's status in this regard can finally be determined.

In May, 2021, Sheriff Margaret Neilson threatened to summon a Home Office official to her court in Inverness to explain the continuing delay in deciding whether he and another Vietnamese man arrested in relation to the raid were human trafficked.

However, her brother Sheriff ran out of patience and has now instructed an evidencial hearing for 2pm on July 5 to decide whether the case against Mr Le should go ahead or be dropped.

If it is agreed he was human trafficked, he is protected from prosecution under Lord Advocate's guidelines. It is believed Le's co-accused, 35-year-old Thong Nguyn, is now back in Vietnam having agreed to return there as a deportee.

Le's position at the time was that he wanted to remain in the UK, his lawyer, Matthew O'Neill explained.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank. Picture: Gary Anthony
Sheriff Ian Cruickshank. Picture: Gary Anthony

Sheriff Cruickshank told fiscal depute Robert Weir: "I am concerned that he has been remanded for the past 18 months, and we have been awaiting a response from the Home Office since August 13 last year.

"As it would be of advantage to the court, this could be considered a preliminary issue before trial and we could cite individuals from the Home Office to give evidence. I would be happy to do that."

Mr Weir and Mr O'Neill agreed this would be the right course of action and Mr Weir now has to consider who he will bring north to attend the hearing.

"Anything that can expedite matters." he told Sheriff Cruickshank.

The pair had been charged with supplying and producing controlled drugs.

According to the Lord Advocate's guidelines, anyone who has been human trafficked should be deported rather than prosecuted.

Following the raid, at least a dozen evidence bags were subsequently stacked in the back of a police van, with officers appearing to struggle to find space for them all.

Parcels stuffed with leafy green plants were also carried out by officers, some of whom wore masks.

Detective Sergeant Scott McKay described the find then as a "significant seizure".

The Highlander Hotel had been closed for more than a year prior to the police raid.

It is understood the suspected illegal operation was reported to police by locals who had concerns about what was going on inside.

Parents of children who attend a primary school close to the hotel had also reported unusual smells emanating from the site.


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