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Drug Barons Target Norfolk, Say Police

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
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.

Source: Eastern Daily Press (Norwich, UK)
Copyright: 2007 Archant Regional
Contact: EDPletters@archant.co.uk
Website: EDP24 - Eastern Daily Press - Norfolk news, sport, homes, jobs, cars
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