Drugs menace on our doorsteps

VIOLENT, organised criminal gangs are behind a surge in cannabis factories which are netting cultivators hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.In 2004/05, police seized 734 cannabis plants in the county but already during the 2008/09 period, a staggering 4,000 plants have been confiscated.

VIOLENT, organised criminal gangs are behind a surge in cannabis factories which are netting cultivators hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.

In 2004/05, police seized 734 cannabis plants in the county but already during the 2008/09 period, a staggering 4,000 plants have been confiscated.

The figures, made public following a Freedom of Information request by The Evening Star, come as two more people this week faced magistrates for setting up a 1,000 plant factory in a five bedroom bungalow in Ipswich which could have netted them up to £1million. And on Thursday a house in Lister Road, Ipswich was busted, which police believe could have generated up to £3million. A man is currently being held in custody in connection with the latest raid.

Suffolk police are now so concerned about the rise in gangs that they are placing adverts warning landlords that their properties could be at risk from drugs gangs.

And leading Ipswich drugs charity the Iceni Project revealed it could no longer assist those affected by cannabis dependency - despite reporting an escalation in the numbers appealing for help.

Suffolk police detective inspector Jim Keeble said organised gangs saw the production of cannabis as an easy means of making money.

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He revealed that a two or three-bed semi-detached sub-urban house could be transformed into a factory for around £20,000 with easily bought items, netting cultivators around £250,000 a year.

Mr Keeble said: “Cannabis is relatively easy to grow and the risks associated with producing it are much less compared with bringing it into the country by car or ferry.

“It's certainly less risky than dealing Class A drugs.”

A number of those prosecuted for running cannabis factories in Suffolk have been of Vietnamese or Chinese origin.

Mr Keeble said: “It's an organised system. The people we tend to arrest for running cannabis factories, the gardeners, are usually people who are trying to pay off a debt, perhaps for gaining entry into the country.

“They often come from a culture where the use of extreme violence as a means of enforcement is acceptable.”

Ten years ago only 11 per cent of cannabis sold in the UK was grown here, a figure that has now exceeded 60pc.

Mr Keeble said: “The public perception is that cannabis is safe and it's semi-ok to take it. But this is not a sweet and innocent drug and the government has accepted that by returning it to Class B.”

Should laws on cannabis cultivation be toughened up? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

If you suspect that a premises is a cannabis factory, please contact police on 01473 613500. Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

DID YOU KNOW?

Police and health experts say cannabis produced in factories, known as skunk, is around four times stronger than the normal form of the drug and is linked to psychosis, depression and anxiety.

Skunk contains far higher quantities of the chemical THC than herbal or resin-based cannabis.

LEADING Ipswich drugs charity The Iceni Project today spoke of its concerns that those suffering with cannabis dependencies have nowhere to turn.

The project's Patrick Palmer said until a funding change three months ago, Iceni had been inundated with people from Ipswich seeking help for cannabis-related problems.

However, after a funding review, Iceni is now only allowed to help those with Class A drug addictions.

Mr Palmer said: “Up until three months ago, we were becoming extremely concerned about the increases in the number of people with cannabis dependency.

“At that stage, the number of calls from cannabis users out-numbered those from Class A drug users.

“But there has been a review of our funding, which is now completely ring-fenced for Class A drug users so we can no longer offer a service to those with cannabis problems.

“Those with a cannabis dependency now have nowhere to go. We are constantly turning people away.”

Mr Palmer said he believed the government funding requirements changed because of the links between hard drugs and associated crime.

How to identify a cannabis factory:

The windows of the property are permanently covered from the inside

Visits to the property occur at unusual times of the day or night

People often do not live in the premises and only visit to maintain them

There may be a vent protruding through the roof or a rear window

There may be a pungent smell coming from the premises

There may be noise coming from the equipment, such as cooling fans

A large amount of pots and lights may be moved into the premises when the factory is set up

In terraced houses, shared walls may appear wet to the touch

Large amounts of soil and pots in back gardens

Recent cannabis busts in Ipswich:

October: Drug squad detectives swoop on a house in Nacton Road following a tip off from a member of the public. A cannabis factory worth thousands of pounds is uncovered.

Nobody was in the house but plant pots and hydroponic growing equipment were found in four rooms while baby cannabis plants had been left behind in a downstairs room.

August: Around 300 cannabis plants were found by police during a raid on a house in Roebeck Road Ipswich.

May: An illegal immigrant who helped operate a sophisticated cannabis factory in a house in Ipswich's Beatty Road was jailed for 28 months.

Vui Nguyen, 29 admitted to being involved in the production of cannabis after police executed a search warrant at the three-bedroom former council house and discovered 304 mature cannabis plants which would have yielded 87.5kgs of skunk with a street value of up to £500,000.

A 1,000-plant cannabis factory which could have netted cultivators more than a million pounds was set up to pay back debts to drug dealers a court heard.

Officers raided a five-bed bungalow in Ipswich on Wednesday where they discovered the staggering hoard.

Stephen Kingwell, 51, and Carl Allcock, 39, who were arrested at the Felixstowe Road property, pleaded guilty to producing cannabis and illegally abstracting electricity when they appeared at South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Thursday, 24 hours after their arrest.

Both were warned to expect significant custodial sentences when they receive their punishment at crown court later this month.

Magistrates heard how a police warrant had been executed at the bungalow, which was being rented by dad-of-eight Allcock and his family.

The court was told how Allcock had racked up cocaine debts of £45,000 while living in Salford in Lancashire and had been forced to turn to cannabis production to clear the arrears.

His solicitor John Hughes said, Allcock whose youngest child is three weeks old had been forced to move to Suffolk to escape the violence associated with his debt.

When officers entered the property, they found 600 baby plants in one room and 400 more mature plants in another

Police estimate that had the plants been allowed to grow to maturity, they could have been worth £1,120,000.

Allcock, who has lived at the bungalow since August 2008, and Kingwell, also of Felixstowe Road, were described as the “men with the watering can”.

Mr Hughes added: “He (Allcock) was acting under duress with third parties putting pressure on him.

“A large amount of drugs have been lost and this has not helped his debt problem. Clearly there are going to be people higher up in the chain who are not going to be happy.”

Kingwell, who was unrepresented, did not address the court.

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