A COURT interpreter who tried to claim the girlfriend of a £1million drugs ring leader was a 16-year-old has been jailed for 12 months.

Kim Tran, 49, produced a forged birth certificate on behalf of Thanh Thi Nguyen at Preston Crown Court, following her arrest as part of a major cannabis conspiracy.

In a bid to secure her release from Styal Prison, an attempt was made to persuade the court that Nguyen was under-age and should be transferred to secure youth accommodation.

But Judge Beverley Lunt, at a pre-trial hearing, ordered that the certificates should be seized and they were soon found by police to be forgeries.

Later it would emerge that Tran, who had worked as a court interpreter for 16 years, had been hired by the cannabis gang to pass messages during prison visits and over the phone.

Jailing her at Burnley Crown Court after she was convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice at an earlier trial, Recorder Tom Gilbart said: "This strikes at the very heart of the administration of justice."

Mr Recorder Gilbart told the court it was clear, from phone calls made between members of the drugs gang, that the intention of having Thanh Nguyen transferred from an adult prison to secure youth accommodation was to enable her to flee the jurisdiction.

Tran had been involved in a number of phone conversations with Thanh's sister, while the birth certificate was being composed and modified, the court was told.

Thanh Nguyen, who was in fact 21, was jailed for 40 months for her role in the conspiracy, which saw more than 20 homes rented out across the north west to grow cannabis.

She was detained, along with her boyfriend Jack Nguyen, after police raided a home in Roe Greave Road, Oswaldtwistle and found plants with a street value of £80,000.

Lancaster And Morecambe Citizen:

Jack and Thanh Nguyen

This led to the uncovering of other cannabis farms in non-descript terraced houses in Liverpool, Preston, Blackpool and Burscough.

Young couples like the Nguyens would rent out homes from unsuspecting landlords before associates were moved in to establish and tend to cannabis crops.

Jack Nguyen was jailed for 88 months last December, as the ringleader of the conspiracy, alongside several other Vietnamese nationals. Cash totalling £250,000 was also seized during a number of raids.

Rosalind Scott-Bell, defending, said her client, a mother of two daughters who each hoped to be solicitors, was "ashamed and embarrassed" at finding herself in the dock.

The defendant, of Imperial Way, Blackley, Manchester, had worked as an interpreter for the criminal courts and immigration tribunals since the early 2000s, after studying languages at university.

Miss Scott-Bell said her client had not been involved in the original production of the birth certificate.