Pubdate: Tue, 20 Nov 2007
Source: Eastern Daily Press (Norwich, UK)
Copyright: 2007 Archant Regional
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Quiet Norfolk suburbs are being targeted by crime barons looking
to turn rental properties into lucrative drugs factories, it emerged
last night.

The alert came after one couple let their Wymondham home to a person
they thought was a respectable Malaysian businessman - then discovered
the semi-detached property had been used in a sophisticated cannabis
growing operation.

Each factory is capable of producing tens of thousands of pounds in
profit. After the latest discovery police have reissued advice on how
to stop criminals operating under our noses.

It is not the first time homeowners and agents have been exploited -
in the past year similar discoveries have been made in Norwich,
Yarmouth and King's Lynn - and dozens more may be unwittingly letting
properties to gangs.

Police spokesman Kristina Fox said the force had led a number of
successful prosecutions in recent months and other cases were still
waiting to come to court. Many of these involved gangs leasing
properties in residential streets.

She added: "We have undoubtedly made a big dent in local cannabis
supply. We would appeal to members of the public to report anything
suspicious to us so we can repeat this success.

"If you have a property near to you where no one seems to be living
but there are suspicious comings and goings report it to us.

"Cannabis production is a serious offence and our work to combat this
issue will remain on-going.

"We urge the public to remain vigilant in respect of cannabis
cultivation in their community. Should a member of the public grow
suspicious of a property, they shouldn't approach the occupiers, but
call the police."

David Hastings let his three-bedroom property in a leafy street four
months ago. He now faces a repair bill of up to UKP20,000 after he
uncovered the crime.

He said: "There were a large number of empty boxes in the house and
garage which had contained power packs, switchboards, lamps and
reflectors and there is evidence that the electricity meter has been
tampered with.

"There were ventilation holes in the ceilings and floorboards had been
hacked up. We now have a big clean-up on our hands and it seems like
there is little the police can do."

Drugs farmers often use hydroponic systems to accelerate plant growth.
This means they can reap up to three harvests a year. "Gardeners" are
employed to tend the crops with the income being passed up the chain.

It seems likely that at least one yield was produced at the Hastings'
property, meaning that a profit worth tens of thousands of pounds
would have been made.

The tenants had made excuses to cover up their activities. The man who
signed the contract said his wife was "shy" and asked that Mr Hastings
did not approach the property without permission. This also explained
why windows were covered up.

Mr Hastings noticed that the property was kept unusually warm but put
this down to cultural differences. He only became suspicious when he
asked to inspect the house and the tenants were evasive. By then it
was too late as they quickly vacated the property.

"They had carried out some remedial work which included painting the
ceilings with white gloss paint and some holes in the ceiling had been
poorly repaired and covered with Artex ceiling roses," he said.

"It was obvious they had been growing cannabis in there, it even had a
funny smell. But they had the nerve to ask for their deposit back."

Landlords and letting agents should be aware of tenants offering to
pay months of rent in advance or going above the average rate. They
should never accept cash and always ask for bank details.

They should be particularly suspicious if a tenant denies them access
to the property or refuses entry to certain rooms.
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