A MAJOR cannabis farm was shut down by police when an estate agent uncovered almost 300 plants during a routine property inspection, a court heard.

Officers found an address in Baydale Road, Darlington, had been turned into a farm, in May, which led to the capture of two of its alleged ringleaders Lam Hai Vo, 58, and Anh Ta Nguyen, 21.

Teesside Crown Court heard the pair were caught by police after arriving at the property in Mr Hai Vo’s Vauxhall Zafira, with a boot full of liquid fertliser, £1,000 cash and two small bags of cannabis.

Mr Hai Vo and Mr Ta Nguyen, originally of Vietnam, both deny producing class B drugs, and claim they don’t know each other.

The court heard Mr Hai Vo, latterly of Lewisham, South London, thought the goods in his car were to be used to start a new Darlington takeaway.

Mr Ta Nguyen, of no fixed address, told police he believed he was being driven to Manchester by Mr Hai Vo to meet his girlfriend, and had no knowledge of Darlington or the cannabis farm.

Ian West, prosecuting, said the pair were part of a larger organisational ladder which was producing cannabis at Baydale Road and at another address in North Road, Darlington.

He said: “They were not gardeners, their role was somewhat higher up the management chain of a cannabis enterprise where the two houses had been turned into farms.

“If you get it right, you can get a lot of plants in one house, and that is what was going on here.

“ The two houses were both rented, and an agent acting on behalf of the landlord went to Bagdale Road for a routine visit.

“The locks on a bedroom door had been changed, and when a locksmith opened it, police found nearly 300 plants.

“They were both arrested outside the property, Mr Ta Nguyen while they waited for another man to enter the address.

“They also sent each other a number of text messages, which suggests their relationship was more than what they claim it was.”

The trial continues.