FIREFIGHTERS who raced to a Paisley tenement to rescue families from the burning building burst inside a flat and discovered a secret cannabis factory.
Around 60 potted plants at various stages of growth were found and the overall street value ran into several thousands of pounds.
Police were then alerted about the discovery, which was made at a top floor flat in Caledonia Street.
Paisley Sheriff Court heard how two rooms were being used for the cultivation of plants, with special lighting installed, drying racks in place and fan heaters to accelerate the process.
Depute fiscal Margaret McCallum said that each of the 60 plants could have a yield value of £100 when harvested.
The court was told that residents, including accused Graham McConnell, had already been evacuated and were standing in the street at around 1am in May last year when firemen arrived to tackle the blaze that had been started in an unoccupied ground-floor flat.
As firemen began to check each of the upstairs properties to make sure no-one was still inside, they made the shock discovery and advised their senior officer, who reported the find to police.
The fire was eventually extinguished and enquires began to establish the identity of the person who lived in the drug factory flat.
McConnell, 45, was quizzed and admitted his involvement, explaining to officers that he was growing the plants for his personal use and expected to get a year’s supply, which he was going to freeze when harvested.
He pleaded guilty to “cultivating and harvesting” cannabis plants at property he formerly occupied in Caledonia Street.
Defence agent Kevin Cassidy told the court that his client was “an unusual man” and, describing the case as one of the most bizarre he had dealt with, added: “If it was not such a serious matter, this could be likened to a Monty Python script.”
The lawyer said his client had been in full-time employment since leaving school and was “someone who keeps himself to himself”.
Mr Cassidy added: “He is a man who has been using cannabis for some time and made the foolish decision to cultivate the drug in order to avoid coming into contact with those who traffic in the drug.
“He had decided to grow a lot of the stuff, dry and freeze it and, by doing so, not become involved with those who traffic in drugs on the street.”
The solicitor passed a copy of his client’s statement to police over to the sheriff, saying it contained the “unmistakable smack of truth” which disclosed fully why McConnell had become involved.
His client had never been in trouble before and had taken steps to address the underlying issues in his life.
Mr Cassidy conceded: “This is undoubtedly one of the more bizarre cases I have been instructed in.
“I am confident this is the first and last time this man will ever be seen in court.”
After listening to submissions and studying background reports, Sheriff George Kavanagh told McConnell that he had considered sending him to jail but had changed his mind, having considered all that had been placed before him.
He ordered the accused to carry out 300 hours of community service as a direct alternative to custody.