Vietnamese woman locked in a Dublin growhouse for a month with almost €1m of cannabis

CourtsBy Sunday World

A Vietnamese woman was locked into a €940,000 cannabis growhouse and living in “rudimentary” conditions for over a month before a garda raid, a court has heard.

Thi Ha Pham (55), who gave her address as Lagan Road, Dublin Industrial Estate, Dublin 9, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to cultivation of cannabis at the same location on November 20, 2012. She has no previous convictions.

Garda Neil Cepeda said that colleagues had to break down two entrance doors, which had been padlocked from the outside, before finding Ha Pham sitting on a bed in one of the rooms.

The court heard that Ha Pham is currently being processed under a European directive on whether she can be identified as a victim of human trafficking.

Judge Sarah Berkeley said Ha Pham “probably was and is a victim of trafficking” and imposed a three year sentence, which she backdated to when the former market trader went into custody.

The judge noted that Ha Pham had served two years and seven months in custody on remand, which meant the backdated sentence had now expired.

Gda Cepeda told James Dwyer BL, prosecuting, that he and colleagues got a warrant to search the warehouse after a surveillance operation.

Gardaí found 1,176 mature cannabis plants worth €940,800 in four rooms rigged up with sophisticated lighting and irrigation systems.

Ha Pham told gardaí through an interpreter that she had come to Ireland without a passport by plane and truck after interacting with a Vietnamese woman.

She said she had been living in the growhouse and tasked with turning lights on and off in the various rooms for over a month since her arrival in Ireland.

She said every few days men would arrive to look after the plants and restock her food supplies.

She added that she'd been given a laptop to listen to music but hadn't been paid the €800 per month she'd expected to receive for the work.

Gda Cepeda agreed with Remy Farrell SC, defending, that his client's living conditions had been “rudimentary”.

The garda said he was not aware Ha Pham had plucked some of her hair out while in custody but agreed she looked better yesterday in court.

Mr Farrell submitted to Judge Berkeley that his client “essentially was a prisoner” in the growhouse and that to send her into custody would be “wholly unconscionable”.

Judge Berkeley acknowledged that Ha Pham had entered a guilty plea as soon as the judicial review proceedings in her case had been completed and described her as “vulnerable”.