A cannabis factory set up in an empty hotel was discovered by police after the smell became unbearable for neighbours.

Flavio Picaku, 25, was found to be cultivating more than half a million pounds' worth of cannabis inside the Commercial Hotel in Pontypridd where officers discovered 608 cannabis plants.

The Albanian national was also living inside the hotel, which was  in the process of being renovated, without the permission of the owners. When police were called to the hotel Picaku tried to sneak out of a back exit but he was spotted and arrested.

A sentencing hearing at Cardiff Crown Court on Thursday was told police police were called to Cilfynydd Road at around 6.50pm on May 31 this year after a strong smell of cannabis appeared to be coming from the hotel.

At around 8.55pm one of the officers who remained at the premises while a warrant was being sought saw a man trying to come out of a rear access point at the hotel.

The man was spotted again at the front of the hotel when he could be seen approaching the front door's frosted panel. Police shouted at the man to open the door but he appeared to move further inside.

Police were called to the Commercial Hotel in Pontypridd in May
Police were called to the Commercial Hotel in Pontypridd in May

Prosecutor William Bebb said an officer struck the glass panel with his foot to gain access and ran up the stairs where he discovered Picaku in a large room containing cannabis plants and hydroponic equipment. He was subsequently arrested.

Mr Bebb added: "The property was described as stiflingly hot and bright so it was obvious to officers they had entered a cannabis factory."

A search was conducted of the four-storey hotel and seven rooms were found to contain a total of 608 plants which were seized. They were described as being healthy in appearance and well-fed.

It was calculated there was between 16kg and 52kg of cannabis worth between £201,700 and £638,400.

These pictures show some of the plants discovered by police, with a function area of the hotel among the places used to grow drugs:

In his police interview Picaku said he had found it hard to obtain employment as an illegal immigrant and had been offered the opportunity of looking after cannabis plants for money by a group of Albanian nationals.

He said the factory had already been set up at the hotel before he arrived and he had been living there while feeding and watering the plants.

Picaku later pleaded guilty to producing a controlled drug of Class B.

Flavio Picaku
Flavio Picaku

Defence barrister Susan Ferrier said her client had spent five and a half months in the UK before his arrest and emigrated from Albania because he was in danger.

She said he was employed at the cannabis factory as a paid gardener for three months and received his board and lodgings while he sent the money earned back home to his mother and father in Albania.

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Sentencing, Judge Richard Twomlow said: "You must have been aware it was a big operation because of the number of rooms being used and number of plants. This was a commercial operaton."

Picaku was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.