A BUNGLING cannabis grower has been jailed after he set light to a house with £200,000 worth of drugs growing inside.

Aleksander Podja was out having breakfast when neighbours alerted the fire brigade to smoke coming from the three-storey house in Paignton which had been converted into a cannabis farm by an Albanian gang.

Police had little trouble tracing him because he had left his phone and a pair of trainers at the scene. The phone had a picture of his own face as a screensaver and he was arrested when he came back to fetch it. 

There were 261 plants growing and every floor of the building had been converted for cultivation with the young plants at street level and more mature plants on the upper storeys.

Police seized 121 mature plants including 65 ready for cropping and the sophisticated set-up was capable of producing up to 22 kilograms every four months, with each grow producing skunk with a street value of up to £221,760. 

Podja is an illegal immigrant who was sent back to Albania after being caught growing cannabis in Birmingham in 2021 but who was smuggled back over the English Channel last summer. 

The 29-year-old admitted production of cannabis and was jailed for ten months by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court. He will be deported after he finishes his sentence. 

The judge told him: 'This was a professional and sophisticated operation and the potential value of the crop ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

'There were healthy, mature plants, and you clearly knew what you were doing, which is not surprising given your previous conviction. You were what is known as a gardener.

'I bear in mind you are to be deported but if you ever return to this country and become engaged in growing cannabis again, your expectation should be a sentence measured in years.'

Miss Caroline Bolt, prosecuting, said the fire service were called to Norman Road, Paignton, on the morning of February 21 this year and called in the police after finding a cannabis grow at the house.

The cause of the fire was faulty wiring caused by the electricity meter being by-passed so the growers did not have to pay for the supply to the arrays of adjustable lights which were found in several growing areas.

The minimum wholesale value of the plants, if allowed to reach maturity, was £36,950 and the maximum street value was £221,760. Podja had previously been jailed for six months for an identical offence in October 2021.

At the time of the fire, the Devon and Somerset Dire and Rescue Service said they were called by a neighbour when smoke from the house set off their smoke alarm at 6.28 am. A total of four crews used four sets of breathing apparatus and the incident was declared over at 8 am.

Mr Paul Grumbar, said Podja spoke no English and was exploited after being trafficked into Britain and forced to work by threats to himself and his family. His only aim is to return home and work as a builder.