Its a fair crop as drugs squad swoop

PUBLISHED: 14:02 09 August 2001 | UPDATED: 15:16 03 March 2010

SHOCKED police said today that they wished they had been informed about a crop of hemp growing in a Suffolk field before they launched an investigation.

SHOCKED police said today that they wished they had been informed about a crop of hemp growing in a Suffolk field before they launched an investigation.

The 40 acres of crop – just meters from the police station in Capel St Mary – had the boys in blue reaching for the panic button when they mistook the harmless hemp crop for an illegal supply of cannabis.

Stunned community beat officer Pc Steve Bright admitted: "When I was shown it I was surprised."

Farmers need a licence from the Home Office before they can grow hemp, which looks exactly like its illegal counterpart, and police are usually informed of an intention to grow in their area to prevent any misunderstanding.

"I would have liked to have known it was there as opposed to have it shown to me," said Pc Bright.

"From our point of view it is legal. We were just a bit surprised - it was on our doorstep and we weren't aware it was there."

Billericay-based farmer Peter Philpot is growing the crop, on land off Capel Grove, for Harlow Agricultural Merchants based in Bishop's Stortford.

Parts of the crop, used to replace synthetic materials in the car industry, will be shipped abroad as far afield as Austria and the USA.

Mr Philpot said: "We don't have to inform the police. We have to have a ministry licence and we have that. People get carried away. You would have to smoke a whole field to get high on it."

According to Ian Lowe, of Harlow Agricultural Merchants, the Home Office usually inform police when an industrial hemp crop will be grown in the area but communication "broke down".

"This year the Home Office and the local police didn't talk as well as they have done in the past," he said.

"We have suggested that next year the Home Office and the police and ourselves get together and get a better system organised. We were contacted by the police and had to fax across the application forms that the farmers had submitted to get their licence. "

The company have growers across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex who this year produced 7,500 acres of industrial hemp, 1,000 of which were in Suffolk. It is the first time Capel St Mary has been the site of a crop although a farmer in East Bergholt has been growing for the company for the last five years.

Pc Bright confirmed that, despite the initial misunderstanding, residents including young people in the village had acted responsibly and not interfered with the crop.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office confirmed that licences for the growing of industrial hemp are issued by the ministry and usually > usually > forwarded to the police force in the area.

> > "We work closely with the marketing company during the processing of applications to grow > hemp and we have at least one meeting with them a year to discuss matters > arising from the current growing season and any issues that might affect > the following season," she said. Another meeting will be taking place in due course.

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