A gardener who had 51 cannabis plants growing in his garage told police officers searching his property that he was just house-sitting for his wife.

Freddie Lee, 55, of Thornhill Road, in Surbiton, later changed his story and said in a statement read out in court that he had rented his garage out to a man for storage purposes.

He said he had come to an agreement with the man for a sum of £50 a week, but refused to identify him for fear of his safety.

Mr Lee was convicted by a jury on Wednesday of being concerned in the production of a controlled class B drug after officers searched his home on July 20, 2011.

The cannabis plants ranging between 40cm and 110cm were found in his garage after police officers executed a search warrant of the three-bedroom detached property that evening.

Prosecutor Timothy Godfrey said: “Officers carried out a search of the house – nothing incriminating was found.

“However, the house had a garage, where 51 plants were growing. “The walls were lined with silver foil.

“There were 14 overhead 600 watt lights, extracting fans and an electric thermometer. There were also electric pumps to collect water. It’s on this basis that I say it was a cannabis factory.”

Investigating officer Detective Constable Clayton Warracker, who gave evidence, confirmed that although the garage could have been accessible by pedestrians from around the back – the door had been blocked making the access point from the garden of the homeowner.

Two other people – a man believed to be Mr Lee’s nephew and a woman were also charged after their fingerprints were found on the site.

They were discharged ahead of the trial that began at Kingston Crown Court on Monday, January 7. Lee will be sentenced on January 18.