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It’s only a bit of cannabis cultivation

By Twerton beat manager PC Adge Secker

“It’s only a bit of cannabis-growing. Go and catch a real villain”

That’s what someone said to me when he heard that Bath police officers had discovered a professional and productive cannabis factory in a house in Twerton earlier this week. (Tuesday January 19)

It’s a point of view we hear quite regularly. But he couldn’t be more wrong - and I hope you and he will understand after I spell out the real impact of drugs in our communities.

Cannabis Growing

Inside that ordinary-looking terraced house in Twerton High Street was cannabis-growing on an industrial scale. Some 300 plants in varying stages of maturity were found. On average a mature female plant could potentially yield the grower £1000. Multiply that by the 300 plants we have seized and destroyed and you can easily see that it’s an incredibly lucrative business.

Part of my job as the local beat officer is to get out there amongst the community to provide reassurance that this kind of find isn’t something that happens all the time. There’s a really good reason for that too, because a lot of people think that finds like this are nearly a daily occurrence. As with most things perception is often miles away from reality.

The vast majority of the community, which I’m incredibly proud to serve, appreciate the work we do, but there are inevitably a few misguided souls out there who think it’s merely a minor matter. Like the chap who told me “it’s only a bit of cannabis growing.” The real story behind this latest find is all too often lost and not even considered. It’s a great deal more than just “a bit of cannabis growing” - there is a real human and dangerous element to this crime.

It’s human trafficking. It’s modern slavery. It’s intimidation. It’s organised crime. It’s a huge risk to the community.

What do I mean by this? Well, consider the growers. Quite often, as in this case, we are looking for someone from the Far East, more specifically from Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand.   

What has that got to do with anything, I hear you ask? There is, unfortunately, a well-trodden path to this country from generally young men looking for a ‘better life’ - but who end up as victims.

They pay thousands of pounds to traffickers who promise them the Earth, but delivered hell. They’re promised a job and accommodation and that they’ll be able to earn enough money to send some back home to support their family. They’re often given false travel documents and smuggled into this country.

Does this sound far-fetched? Don’t be fooled. This is happening now and it’s happening in Bath. It’s possibly happening in your street. When these people arrive here they are confronted by threats and violence. They are told to run these ‘grow houses’. Failure to do so often results serious violence and threats against their families back home. They are paid a pittance and live in dangerous conditions.

This chap today asked me, why don’t they go to the police then? An understandable question but an easy one to answer. Going to the police would, in their eyes, inevitably lead to a violent backlash and retribution from the highly-organised criminals now ostensibly running their lives. The risk does not outweigh the reward, so they more or less do as they are told. This is the reality of human trafficking and modern slavery.There is a human side to this.

Cannabis grower's bed v2

I asked this chap today if he had a nice warm comfortable bed to sleep in. Of course he said yes. I then showed him a photo of the cupboard under the stairs in the cannabis house. THIS was the grower’s sleeping area. This was HIS space. This is 2016, I said, and someone is living in terrible conditions under the stairs! There is a human side to this.   

How about the risk to the community then? Well, apart from the obvious drug activity, there is a massive risk of fire and electrocution. These plants need a great deal of pampering to force them to grow quickly and healthily to provide the best possible yield.

They are placed under powerful lighting systems for at least 18 hours every day. Well, this would generate massive energy bills and interest wouldn’t it? Yes it would! So they avoid that by bypassing the electric meter. This is not done by qualified electricians either. They do it themselves, usually to a very poor standard and employing Heath Robinson techniques! This is an incredibly dangerous thing to do, let alone being against the law. The meter is there not only to calculate how much energy you’re using, but to make sure that the system doesn’t get overloaded.

These lights draw huge amounts of power and generate tremendous heat, which has to be cooled by a number of fans that run almost 24 hours a day. It’s a recipe for disaster and all too often tragedy strikes when the system gets completely overloaded and fires break out. This happens all over the country and has happened here in Bath in the last couple of years. Innocent neighbours’ houses are wrecked by these fires. They suffer personal and financial hardship as a result of this activity. There is a human side to this.

Then of course there’s the cannabis itself. A drug regarded incorrectly as recreational. It’s not recreational when kids as young as 10 get hooked. It’s not recreational when families are torn apart as a result of parents smoking it to the detriment of their kids. It’s not recreational when overuse of the stuff causes psychotic episodes so terrible that people throw themselves off buildings. It’s not recreational when lives are ruined. There is a human side to this.

So, next time you see us shut down a cannabis factory I would like to invite you to consider all these facts. Be thankful we have removed from our streets and communities hundreds of thousands of pounds of drugs. But also think about the process of cultivation and production. Who was the ‘gardener’? Why is he here? Is he a victim, under immense duress to do what he does? Think about the human side to this.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you agree “it’s not just a bit of cannabis growing.”

Paul Bunt, Force Drugs Strategy Manager, said:  “We take cannabis production and supply very seriously. In fact, since the Bath discovery earlier this week we’ve uncovered another Vietnamese factory of 300-plus plants in St George, Bristol.

“We have found cannabis cultivation sites in every community, in every type of house (terraced, semi, detached, mansions, in suburban estates) in rural locations including farms and also in industrial units. We would ask that the communities keep their eyes open and report their suspicions. We can easily corroborate their suspicions by use of infrared detection technology and don’t need to go and knock on the door.”

There is a human side to this. Follow PC Secker on Twitter @adge1609