Four Albanian nationals guilty of producing cannabis with a potential yield worth £1.5 million were described as being “preyed on” while they waited for their applications to work legally in this country to be processed.

Judge Simon Carr gave a damning indictment of the current system in the UK, which he said took years to consider such applications, leaving people with “little or no opportunity to earn income while that is done.”

His remarks came during the sentencing of four men found hiding when police executed a search warrant at an industrial estate in Bodmin on October 4 last year, only to discover around 4,000 cannabis plants.

Before Truro Crown Court today (Wednesday) for sentencing were 25-year-old Benis Asllanaj, 37-year-old Fatos Daci, 39-year-old Luan Maci and 29-year-old Luan Prozllomi.

Prosecutor Herc Ashworth said all four men were hiding in the roof space of the building when police arrived at 11am, but at 9.30pm Prozllomi ran down the road, trying to escape. This, said Mr Ashworth, contradicted any suggestion that the defendants were trapped.

He told the court: “Cannabis was grown in multiple rooms. The total potential yield was just under 372kg and based on a low end kilogram value the potential yield would be worth just under £1.5 million.

“An enterprise such as this could repeat that process three times a year.”

Mr Ashworth said there were also weapons in the building – although this was disputed by the defence.

The prosecutor said that baseball bats, knives and metal poles were found. There was also evidence of people living there.

Daci’s barrister said the defendant would dispute any weapons were on the premises, saying there was no evidence or photographs of anything being seized.

Judge Simon Carr said all four men had pleaded guilty to their roles in the production of cannabis on a substantial scale.

However, he described the men as being “preyed on”, saying: “You are sadly in this position as gardeners. You would have been put in to the premises, told what to do, provided basic supplies to survive while you did it.

“The reason you could be preyed on in this way is you are all Albanian nationals, seeking to stay in this country lawfully but caught up in a system which takes years for such applications to be considered, and little or no opportunity to earn income while that is done.

“That is why you were selected for this job and why you had no alternative but you complete it.”

He said it was for this reason, alongside the time they had already spent in custody and the current state of the prison system, that meant he could suspend their sentences today.

Each man was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years.

They must also pay the statutory surcharge, but were described as not being in a position to pay any financial penalty.

Judge Carr ordered that the drugs and associated paraphernalia that were seized by police to be destroyed.