'The police let us down completely': Locals anger after cannabis blaze

Tim Passmore in Kitchener Road

PCC with Kitchener Road resident Margaret Gardener and local councillor Debbie Richards near the houses damaged by fire. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Angry residents have told Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner they feel let down after five homes were all but destroyed by a blaze at an illegal cannabis farm.

Tim Passmore heard neighbours believe police failed to investigate reports of a grow in Kitchener Road because officers were convinced that the smell of cannabis was coming from a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) next door which was home to ex-offenders.

One of the HMO's residents, Rich, said police came around several times to ask about the smell of cannabis: "They spoke to me twice and to some of the others there. We all said 'You should be looking next door – that's where it's coming from', but I never saw them there."

But a police spokesman says officers were confident they had followed the correct procedures and the incident would not be referred to the police watchdog.

Kitchener Road residents talk to Tim Passmore crime commisioner the fire which has done damage to fi

Kitchener Road residents talk to Tim Passmore about the fire which damaged the homes. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Police have said they did call at the house which turned out to be a cannabis farm but there was no reply and they did not have the evidence to get a court order or search warrant to get into the house.

Greg Wigens' home was two doors from the cannabis farm and was badly damaged in the fire. He said his neighbour, who lived next door to the cannabis was never spoken to by police investigating the reports.

He said: "They came to the road, but didn't call on her – she could have told them about the noise from the house like the residents of the HMO did."

Mr Wigens said he and his neighbours had had no problems with the residents of the HMO even though they knew their background.

Suffolk fire crews at the scene of the blaze in Kitchener Road, Ipswich

Suffolk fire crews at the scene of the blaze in Kitchener Road, Ipswich - Credit: Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service

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"They were part of the local community," he said. "Everyone knew the problem was in number 60 next door to them."

Mr Wigens and his wife Alison had lived in their home for five years and been very happy there, but now felt they wanted to move now in the wake of the fire.

Mr Passmore was invited to meet the residents by local county councillor Debbie Richards who has been supporting the resident's efforts to find out more about the investigation before the fire.

The commissioner has spoken to a senior officer about the investigation and was told it was continuing. He promised to tell senior officers about the anger he found among local residents.

He said: "I am here to listen to your concerns and raise them with the police. I cannot say anything about the operational issues but I understand your concerns and will raise them with the most senior officers."

Kitchener Road homes

The houses damaged in May's fire are still waiting to be rebuilt. - Credit: Paul Geater

Local resident Paul Cafabona said locals had lost faith in the police. He said: "The fire service were great and we admire the ambulance and coastguard services – but the police let us down completely."

Mr Cafabona was hailed a hero after waking people late at night on May 29 after he saw the house ablaze.

A police spokesman said the incident would not be referred to the Independent Office of Police Conduct.

He added:  “We remain engaged with local community in the area and the fire remains a live investigation.

"Police are continuing to follow up a number of enquires with the hope to establish the identity of those people living at the address.

"We are fully conscious of the upheaval and distress the fire caused those residents affected by the fire and our sympathies remain with them.

“Following a review of the actions and decisions taken, we remain confident that the proper processes were followed prior to the fire and, as such, no referral has been made to our Professional Standards Department.”