David Sidwick, Dorset PCC, Mark Shelford, Avon and Somerset PCC, Philip Wilkinson, Wiltshire PCC and Alison Hernandez, Devon and Cornwall PCC earlier this week.
The region’s five police forces, supported by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) and working with the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and independent charity Crimestoppers, carried out 58 warrants and searches at commercial cannabis grows as part of the region’s ongoing collective work to target and disrupt organised crime groups harming our communities through drug supply.
Last Wednesday (28 June), police executed a pre-planned warrant at a disused building, which was once a nightclub, on Torwood Street, Torquay. The offender was located hiding on the roof. He was arrested, charged, and has pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of a controlled Class B drug, namely cannabis.
The raid saw officers find a total of 416 cannabis plants with a potential street value of between £116,480 and £349,440.
The South West’s results are part of a nationally coordinated operation to unearth and disrupt OCGs by taking out a key source of their revenue, while simultaneously apprehending many of those involved, safeguarding those being exploited, and increasing intelligence around how the networks operate. (Full round-up of Operation Mille will be published on the NPCC website.)
Chief Superintendent Ben Moseley, regional lead for the latest phase of the drugs operation, said: “People need to understand that, as this operation shows, cannabis cultivation is not a harmless or low-level offence. We know that it is a key source of illicit income for organised crime groups often involved in other serious and organised crime, including class A drug importation and supply, exploitation of vulnerable people through modern slavery, and serious violence as they compete for territory.
“The weapons seized show the level of crime these OCGs are involved in. Teams across the region are now working to maximise the vast intelligence opportunities from the warrants, and there will undoubtedly be OCG members higher up the chain rightfully worried about that.”
Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said: “When law enforcement agencies come together they can make a real and lasting difference to people’s lives.
“A national focus on organised crime is what people want to see is being done and it is fantastic that this collaborative approach is having such a significant impact on criminal activity and harmful drugs hitting our streets.
“During a month of targeted action in the South West, our police forces have seized £6.5m of drugs and made 67 arrests, sending a firm message to drug dealers and organised crime groups that our region is no place for drugs.
“Cannabis production and use is a scourge on our communities and these so-called farms are often hidden in plain sight in derelict buildings or empty homes in our cities, towns and villages as well as rural areas.
“People living in Devon and Cornwall tell me time and again that they are sick of the sight and smell of cannabis in their neighbourhood. What some people think is a harmless bit of fun hides a grim reality of often vulnerable people forced to live in cramped and squalid conditions and being exploited for the financial gain of organised gangs.
“It is vital that anyone concerned about illegal activity in their area to let Crimestoppers know anonymously so the police can act to get this dangerous drug off the streets.”
As well as activity to pursue criminals involved in cannabis cultivation, forces have been looking to raise awareness of the dangers of such grows, which become dangerous due to fire risks, unlawful abstraction of electricity, fumes and water damage.
PCCs are writing to landlords across the region highlighting the issue and SWROCU are attending the Rent Smart event in Devon to speak with private landlords and letting agents.
Anyone with information about a potential cannabis cultivation or drug dealing can contact their local force online or via 101.
People can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or crimestoppers-uk.org
There are some key signs to spot a property could be being used as a cannabis factory:
- Frequent visitors to a property at unsocial hours throughout the day and night.
- Blacked out windows or condensation on the windows, even when it is not cold outside.
- Bright lights in rooms throughout the night.
- Electricity meters being tampered with/altered and new cabling, sometimes leading to street lighting. High electricity bills could also be an indicator.
- A powerful, distinctive, sweet, sickly aroma and noise from fans.
- Lots of work or deliveries of equipment to an address, particularly those associated with growing plants indoors without soil such as heaters and lighting.
- An excessive amount of plant pots, chemicals, fertilisers, and compost.