Prosecutors drop charges against Oxford 'cannabis farmer' teen
Prosecutors dropped charges against a cannabis farmer who claimed to have been enslaved into the drugs trade - and whose lawyer was forced to use Google Translate after an interpreter failed to show-up for a second time.
Pham Hoang, 18, was found in a flat in Underhill Circus, Barton, on July 19. The flat had been converted into a commercial-scale cannabis farm, with 270 plants growing in the property.
The Vietnamese teenager pleaded not guilty to production of cannabis, claiming to have been forced into growing the class B drug as a ‘modern day slave’.
A Home Office department responsible for assessing modern slavery had made an initial decision that Hoang had been forced into the work.
Prosecutor Matthew Walsh told Oxford Crown Court on Friday: “There is little doubt that the defendant was found inside a cannabis factory. The question is whether his defence of being the victim of modern slavery could be disproved by the Crown.”
A decision had been taken to offer no evidence to support the prosecution, Mr Walsh said.
As no interpreter had turned up at court, defence barrister Lyall Thompson had struggled to communicate with his client at a pre-hearing conference in the cells.
“He suggested we communicate through Google Translate. He seems to rather expect that to be the way the courts operate, because there wasn’t an interpreter on a previous occasion,” the barrister said.
At that previous hearing, the advocate then representing Hoang said he had tried speaking to the teenager in French – the former colonial language of what is now Vietnam – before turning to the Google translation app.
The judge, Recorder Michael Roques, said: “In the circumstances, the prosecution having offered no evidence on the indictment, I formally enter a not guilty verdict in relation to that count.”
There were question marks over whether Hoang would be released from prison immediately or if the Home Office planned to deport him.
“I don’t know anything about his immigration status and what may or may not happen from here on in,” the judge said.
Hoang, of no fixed address, appeared in the dock wearing a grey prison tracksuit and jacket with neon orange panels. He spoke only to confirm his name.
‘Modern slavery’ is a relatively new legal defence. It is most often advanced in drugs cases, where someone has been forced into dealing or producing drugs for another person higher-up the chain.
It is for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone who raises the defence was not a ‘slave’.