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Drug 'gardeners' grow 15m-a-year

2 October 09 05:30 GMT

Police in Scotland have uncovered more than 110 cannabis factories across the country in the past 12 months.

Nearly 50,000 plants with an estimated value of £14.8m have been seized since September last year.

Drugs factories have been discovered in every one of the country's eight police force areas.

Police said they believed they had made a "significant impact" on the problem but asked the public to watch out for signs of cannabis farms in their area.

A total of 111 drugs factories were found in the last year.

This compares with a total of 131 over the previous two years of police operations.

Operation League was set up in December 2006 by Strathclyde Police in response to the problem of cannabis sites set up by organised crime gangs from south east Asia.

In 2008, a second phase of the initiative was rolled out across Scotland.

The vast majority of those arrested in the past year - some 78% - have been Chinese nationals, with a further 20% from Vietnam.

Strathclyde Police lead the national task force on the issue but it now also involves the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) and the other national forces.

Det Sgt Michael Williamson said: "As a result of the work under Operation League, we have more intelligence and a greater understanding of the organised crime groups that set up these large-scale cannabis cultivations.

"This has led to a number of significant recoveries and continues to create a hostile environment for organised criminals.

"It costs tens of thousands of pounds to set up a cannabis cultivation due to the requirement for specialist equipment, growing materials, plus the amount it costs to rent property, and we know these people are linked to serious organised crime."

'Report suspicions'

The Strathclyde officer said the help of the public had been "invaluable" to the police.

"By being vigilant and passing information on to the police, we are able to identify and eradicate this problem from our communities," he said.

"So far we have made a significant impact in disrupting these groups but that does not mean we will not continue to investigate and find the main players in these criminal networks.

"We would encourage members of the public to be vigilant and report their suspicions to police or Crimestoppers."

The majority of the factories found by police have been in the Strathclyde area.

However, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary - which has made the fewest finds - faces its own difficulties.

Scotland's smallest police force covers a large geographical area.

It said it was conscious that it needed everybody to help track down cannabis farms which might be operating in the region.

"Over the last few months we have done an awareness programme to the fire brigade with regards to the dangers encountered with cannabis cultivations," said Det Con Scott Jardine.

"We will also be doing proposed awareness days in four locations in Dumfries and Galloway.

"We will be inviting professional organisations such as housing agencies, landlords - even postmen."

They want to speak to "anyone who might encounter these types of cultivations or premises through their day-to-day business".

Det Insp Gary Coupland, of Dumfries and Galloway's drug squad, said there were a number of tell-tale signs to watch out for.

These included covered windows, people visiting at unusual times and compost bags or garden equipment being left lying near a property.

Extra vents on a building, a pungent smell, the noise of cooling fans and fluctuations in power and water supplies are also indicators of a cultivation site.

He added that the public should not believe it was a crime which could not be committed in their area.

He said almost "any type of property" could be converted into a cannabis farm.

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