AN ALBANIAN national who claimed he was a victim of human trafficking has been jailed for 30 months after admitting running a cannabis farm in Galashiels town centre.

Mirjan Kastrati said he fled Albania fearing he was going to be murdered and had to pay £16,000 to traffickers to escape to Britain.

But in order to pay the debt he says he was forced to look after a £200,000 cannabis cultivation in a former bookmaker's shop on Channel Street..

When police raided the first floor building they found 700 cannabis plants and the 30-year-old sleeping in the kitchen area.

Kastrati insisted he had only been sent there to act as security and was never the "gardener" of the cultivation and had no role of setting up the cannabis farm.

Sheriff David Clapham took into account the arguments put forward by defence lawyer Urfan Dar saying that in previous cases the starting point would be a four year jail sentence.

He explained he was able to have a lower starting point and sentenced Kastrati to 30 months in jail, back-dated to April when he was first taken into custody.

Procurator fiscal Graham Fraser told Selkirk Sheriff Court that police had received information that the old Ladbrokes shop in Channel Street was being used to cultivate cannabis.

He said police raided the premises at 8.55am on April 9 and said Kastrati was there with another male.

The fiscal told how 701 cannabis plants were found and Scottish Power had to be called in to make the building safe as the electricity supply had been tampered with.

Mr Fraser continued: "The accused said how he had fled Albania a year before in 2018. "He advised how his uncle, who was a significant person in politics, had been murdered previously and he felt obliged to leave Albania after receiving threats to himself and his family.

"He ran up debts of £16,000 for being brought into this country.

"He said he was not allowed to leave the premises where the cannabis cultivation was and slept in the kitchen area. "He said how he had an allergy to cannabis which was making him unwell.

"He did not know he was in Scotland and had been subjected to violence including a broken nose.

"He was working for a group of males to pay off the debt."

Mr Fraser said the plants had not matured and had not come into bud, and that the estimates of their value were wide ranging.

But he explained if the cannabis was split into small deals the drugs could be worth anything between £200,000 and £590,000.

Mr Dar had said his client was under the impression that he would have to pay £4,000 to come to Britain and was "astonished" to be told he would have to pay another £12,000.

He said: "He was forced to comply with what these men wanted him to do. he had come here via Italy and Belgium and was working in London but was subjected to threats. "He was told he was going to Newcastle and then he was put into a taxi and taken to Galashiels. "He had never heard of it. He was taken to these premises where the plants were already there."

Mr Dar said it should be taken into account he was not the "gardener" of the premises which would have been higher up the chain and that his client was in a vulnerable position.

He said: "He has been trafficked into this country and was not the gardener. He was there to provide security."

Kastrati pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug and received a sentence of two and a half years.