As part of our week-long series looking at modern slavery, Investigative Reporter Aasma Day looks at how desperate people are trafficked into the UK and forced to work in cannabis farms.
Lured by promises of a better life, Dong Phu Do was brought to Lancashire from Vietnam by a “Mr Big” with the temptation of money to fund her children’s education.
However, when the 41-year-old arrived in Preston, she was put to work in a cannabis farm in Fulwood estimated to be worth £32,000 a year.
In her native country, she had a desperate existence selling food from the roadside and paid for her own flights to come here.
The mum-of-two was among several immigrants imprisoned for cultivating cannabis after a proliferation of cannabis farms were found in rented homes in Preston six years ago and has since been deported.
Many of the establishments involved people of Oriental origin brought into the country and exploited.
Among them was a 15-year-old Vietnamese girl who came to the UK illegally without any funds and was discovered by police helping out at a “farm” in a terraced house on Acregate Lane, Ribbleton, Preston, in April 2008.
Only last December, Son Van Trinh, 39, pictured above, an illegal immigrant who acted as a gardener for a £125,000 cannabis farm was jailed for 16 months.
Preston Crown Court heard Trinh and his family had been suffering financial difficulties in Vietnam so he paid £25,000 to be transported from his home in Vietnam to the UK.
Trinh was taken through Chechnya and into France, before being brought to the UK in the back of a lorry.
When police raided the house in Waverley Road, Preston, in November 2013, Trinh had no idea where in the country he was and seemed frightened and confused.
Inside the house was a sophisticated cannabis farm where 319 plants were growing. The attic and upstairs rooms were fitted out with hydroponic equipment, lighting, thermometers and heat lamps.
In one room was a mattress on the floor where Trinh slept.
The court heard Trinh had been in desperate need of food and accommodation and had been taken to the house by people he refused to name.
Trinh, of no fixed address, gave no comment when he was interviewed by police, but pleaded guilty to cultivating cannabis at Preston Magistrates Court.
When sentencing him, Judge Graham Knowles, said: “You were found in a house where there was what police rightly described as an expertly prepared cannabis farm.
“Your living circumstances were that you were living with only a mattress by way of furnishing.
“You were taken to the house and told you would be given accommodation and food.
“You inevitably had some awareness and understanding of the scale of the operation as you tended to the plants.
“You were engaged maybe by pressure and coercion, but it is probably more right to say that you were involved through naivety and exploitation.”