A FORMER antique dealer started a cannabis factory in an old warehouse, a court has heard.

Leslie Ballard, of Broughton Road, Banbury, and Birmingham residents Gulfam Yousaf and Zafar Iqbal, deny producing the Class B drug.

Yesterday Oxford Crown Court heard how 87 mature cannabis plants were discovered in tents on the first and second floors of a building in Pepper Alley in Banbury which Ballard was allegedly renting.

Sandra Beck, prosecuting, said they were found by police, along with fertiliser and hydroponic growing equipment, on April 22, 2011, after the owner of the building said he became suspicious of his tenant and went to investigate.

Property developer Peter Henry told the court how he had become worried after Ballard installed a locked door preventing access to the first floor.

He said the 59-year-old paid his £700 rent in cash, making him suspicious.

Eventually he and his father-in-law went to the property and gained access to the first floor with screwdrivers.

He said: “I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on there.

“When I opened the door I felt a lot of heat. The windows were boarded up, which they never were before, and there were a number of glowing tents.”

Mr Henry said he reported the factory to the police, who arrested Ballard, 35-year-old Iqbal, of Church Road, Birmingham, and 39-year-old Yousaf, of Chestnut Road, Birmingham.

The crown court trial continues.