A VIETNAMESE man who controlled a work force of illegal immigrants as 'gardeners' to cultivate cannabis inside an empty city leisure centre in made a profit of more than £750,000, a court has heard.

Toi Van Le, 54, had played a leading role in a nationwide conspiracy over a 10 year period with the potential to produce several million pounds worth of cannabis.

He turned the abandoned Underwood Leisure Centre in Newport into a cannabis factory capable of producing drugs with a street value of around £1.6 million.

It was part of an "extensive and audacious" drugs operation and in August, 2014, police raided the premises on Waltwood Road in Llanmartin and found cannabis being expertly grown on an 'industrial scale'.

All the necessary equipment - estimated to have cost £30,000 - was in 10 growing areas of the huge building.

There was also living accommodation and three 'gardeners' - who were all illegal Vietnamese immigrants - were arrested.

Police were able to link Van Le, who had lived in Telford and had addresses in Birmingham and London, to the leisure centre from the Satnav device in his Audi car which featured a post code for the area and CCTV cameras put the car near the premises in April, 2014.

Movement of the phone of one of the arrested men had travelled between Telford and Gwent at same time as Van Le's Audi.

The phone had been 'topped up' at Strensham Services on the southbound side of the M5 motorway as the two men travelled together.

Another gardener had left a phone at the premises which revealed text messages and details of Van Le's Telford address and post code.

In addition Van Le was involved in controlling cannabis production at properties in Telford, Birmingham, Burton-upon-Trent and Stoke-on-Trent, an empty bank in Grimsby and a former doctor's surgery in Cumbria, between January, 2006, and May 2016.

Analysis of CCTV footage and mobile phone data and satellite navigation systems had showed Van Le moving around the relevant areas of the country.

At a Proceeds of Crime hearing at Shrewsbury Crown Court this week it was revealed that a lengthy financial investigation by West Mercia police found Van Le had limited realisable assets.

Judge Peter Barrie was told that Van Le's benefit had been calculated to be around £769,500, which included £14,250 worth of drugs recovered by police.

Van Le, who is serving an 11 year and 10 months jail sentence for his crimes, did not attend the hearing, and was ordered to pay just £6,100 - money recovered from a bank account and the sale of an Audi car, valued at £2,000.

Judge Barrie said that the confiscation order must be paid in full by July this year or Van Le will serve an additional three-months in prison in default.

He may face deportation when he completes sentence imposed by Judge Barrie in December, 2016, after he was convicted of nine charges of conspiring to produce cannabis following a 17-day trial.

Passing sentence Judge Barrie had described Van Le as a 'valued and trusted' member of a team producing skunk cannabis on both a commercial and industrial scale.