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£3.25 million of cannabis plants seized in successful operation targeting organised crime

In an operation targeted at disrupting organised crime groups (OCGs) involved in cannabis cultivation across the South West, Avon and Somerset Police have seized over three million pounds worth of cannabis and arrested 20 people in relation to crimes linked to the illegal cultivation of the plant.

Avon and Somerset Police joined all five police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners in the South West and the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) as part of Operation Scorpion, the region’s ongoing work to target and disrupt organised crime groups harming our communities through drug supply. This phase of the enforcement supported a national campaign run across all 43 forces in England and Wales, led by the National Police Chief’s Council.

Collectively across the South West, £6.8 million worth of cannabis was seized, along with a number of weapons including a 9mm pistol, 67 arrests were made and 58 warrants and searches carried out on premises suspected to be cultivating cannabis or linked to organised crime.

Cannabis cultivation is frequently linked to serious and organised criminal networks, who engage in a broad range of criminal activity such as class A drug importation, exploitation, human trafficking, and serious violence.

Dark room full of cannabis plants with fans and wires hanging from the ceiling

Chief Superintendent Ben Moseley from Avon and Somerset said: “Throughout this operation, we have had one clear focus, and that has been to target criminals who are destroying lives and fuelling crime and violence.

“We do not tolerate these organised crime groups in our region, and by identifying, targeting and dismantling large cannabis farms, we are able to prevent more serious crime, and protect those vulnerable to being exploited by this.”

In Avon and Somerset our officers:

  • Seized 6,368 cannabis plants (357kg) worth an estimated £3.25 million
  • Carried out 20 warrants on properties believed to be used for growing cannabis
  • Made 20 arrests, with 6 people charged for offences related to illegal drug activity, and 9 still under investigation
  • Seized a number of bladed weapons

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford, said: ““This operation continues to go from strength to strength. We collectively continue to make our communities safer by targeting the criminals bringing drugs and violence to our region as well as protecting the vulnerable they seek to exploit as workers or as users of the drugs they supply.

“This operation has seen a huge effort by all five regional forces working to ensure the South West is no place for drugs and this work will continue.”

Cannabis grows pose a local threat to communities

Aside from the criminal aspect, cannabis grows also pose a very real threat to local communities. Properties used for this purpose can become dangerous as a result of fire risks, unlawful abstraction of electricity, and fumes, as well as fuelling increased crime rates in the surrounding area.

Those tasked by criminals to look after cannabis grows are often vulnerable, and are sometimes victims of human trafficking, modern slavery, or criminal exploitation. Sharing information with the police at an early stage allows them to work closely to tackle cannabis farms and organised criminal groups before they can cause serious harm.

Officers discovered an industrial-scale cannabis factory in Bristol with more than 2,500 plants with an estimated street value of £1.25 million.

They were first called to an address in St Marks Grove, Easton, at 5am on Thursday 15 June following a report of suspicious activity from a member of the public. One person in his 20s was arrested in connection with this incident.

Inquiries following this initial arrest then led officers to Stapleton Road, Bristol, where they discovered the large cannabis factory, where two other men were arrested. They were later released without charge.

A fourth man, in his 30s, was arrested in connection with the investigation. He and the man in his 20s have been released on police bail, pending further investigation.

Another report was made to officers in Southmead, Bristol which led to the discovery of over 100 cannabis plants being cultivated in the upstairs of a property belonging to a lady in her 70’s. The woman was believed to be a victim of ‘cuckooing’, in which a vulnerable person is taken advantage of for use of their home in criminal activity.

Other warrants led to cannabis farms being discovered in Weston-Super-Mare, Wells, Chipping Sodbury and Bridgwater.

Chief Superintendent Ben Moseley continued: “The results across the county have caused significant disruption to these networks by not only removing streams of illicit income, but also highlighting a pattern of exploitation and other dangerous criminal activity. Intelligence gathered throughout this operation will mean we are better placed than ever to target those involved.”

How to spot if a property is 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.

Anyone with any information or concerns about a potential cannabis factory or drug dealing can contact Avon and Somerset Police by calling 101 or making a report online. In the case of an emergency or crime that is currently taking place, always call 999.

Alternatively, people can report any information anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.