POLICE raided a house in Southampton and found 475 cannabis plants, a court was told.

Had they reached maturity, the plants, which were discovered in three rooms and a loft, would have had a wholesale value of more than £70,000.

Southampton Crown Court was told that officers also found the electricity supply had been bypassed and the three-bedroom property in Shakespeare Avenue, Portswood, had been adapted with electrical cabelling, sockets, extractors, a watering system, fans and chemicals.

Before the court was Vien Hoang, 41, who had pleaded guilty to producing cannabis. He had claimed he was only a gardener but the judge observed he knew what to do as no instructions were found at the premises.

Passing a deterrent sentence of four years in prison, Judge Tom Longbotham said: "I accept you were not the man who rented the property but you were someone who was prepared to stay there and work there. You cultivated the cannabis, and knew how to deal with potential problems."

In mitigation, Ben Stephenson said Hoang had been at the property for only a week. He was given a meal and £200 and promised there would be more when the plants came to fruition. They didn't and he was arrested. He played a minor role."

The court was told that drugs squad officers had raided more than 50 houses in the Southampton area in the past 18 months and discovered they had been converted into sophisticated cannabis factories.

The rented properties had links with the Vietnamese community and in some cases had been damaged by fire after the electricity meter had been bypassed.