Albanian drug mule who ran cannabis farm in Sheffield snared by police as he hurtled down motorway

An Albanian drug mule was snared by cops as he hurtled down a motorway in a BMW carrying over 15 kilos of cannabis, a court heard.

Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 12:00 pm

Esmerald Xhafa, 27, from Sheffield, was arrested on the hard shoulder of the A1(M) at Boroughbridge, in North Yorkshire, after being pulled over by police, York Crown Court heard.

Xhafa left the vehicle and legged it into a field at the side of the motorway, and the police helicopter had to be deployed to locate him, said prosecutor Eddison Flint.

Police found two cardboard boxes containing more than 15kg of herbal cannabis in the BMW and £273 in cash, as well as a “hand-written list of names”, the court was told.

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Esmerald Xhafa

He was hauled into custody but refused to answer police questions, but he did tell officers at the scene that he lived in Sheffield.

His home address was searched by police who found 56 cannabis plants growing in his loft.

The “sophisticated” hydroponics system was fitted with plaster-board insultation, a modified electricity transformer and large growing lights to cultivate the plants.

Xhafa, of Teynham Road, Shirecliffe, was charged with possessing a Class B drug with intent to supply and cannabis production.

He initially denied the offences but pleaded guilty to both charges weeks before his trial was due to take place and appeared for sentence via video link on Monday, July 19, aided by an Albanian interpreter.

Chris Moran, for Xhafa, said his client had come to the UK “to make a better life for himself and his family”.

“And, therefore, found himself in an extremely difficult position with an organised-criminal gang,” added Mr Morley.

He said Xhafa thought that if he tried to extricate himself from his role in the drugs enterprise, he would have been in “significant danger”.

Xhafa had been put upon by those higher up the drug chain by way of “pressure, coercion, intimidation and control”.

He had been threatened and assaulted by his drug overlords, Mr Morley told the court.

Judge Simon Hickey questioned why Xhafa had not gone to the authorities if his claims to have been assaulted and threatened were true.

“Those (who) do involve themselves with drug-dealing (need to understand) how it has a bad effect on the streets of this country,” he added.

He told Xhafa: “You have to realise that, once arrested, you bear the consequences.”

Mr Hickey said the police operation, including the force helicopter, had been an “expensive” one which resulted in Xhafa’s arrest on February 9 this year, when he was found with a “vast” amount of cannabis.

The judge told Xhafa that there must have been some financial reward for his “dual role” as a “trusted” cannabis gardener and courier for his drug bosses.

He said Xhafa “must have been aware of the scale of the operation” even though there were “elements of control and coercion upon you”.

Xhafa was given a 28-month jail sentence, of which he will serve half behind bars before being released on prison licence.