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Drug factories get smoked out

David Tilley, This is Local London, 17th March 2006

Cannabis factories have been found in houses in Merton prompting police to urge householders to watch out for would-be tenants who offer large sums of money upfront for rent.

Merton police are asking landlords if they really know who is renting their properties following investigations in which officers found four Merton properties have been turned into cannabis factories.

The properties are ripped apart and every available space is used to produce the illegal drug with street values up to £400,000 per year.

Inquiries have shown that the initial search for landlords via the internet and local papers is then followed up by an offer of cash for a six or 12-month term but no references or identification is offered.

Superintendent Simon Ovens of Merton police said: "These cannabis factories not only constitute a serious criminal offence but create great danger for neighbours.

"I would encourage landlords to be extra careful in their lettings and ask for references and inform us if they have any suspicions about what might be going on. Rest assured we will take robust action against anyone carrying out such activity."

According to the Metropolitan Police Authority the link between organised criminal networks and cannabis factories was established through intelligence and has now been proven by arrests and prosecutions.

Vietnamese groups are setting up cannabis factories on an unprecedented scale; since April of this year more than 300 of the factories have been detected in London. The chosen method of production in the majority of cases is hydroponics.

In June last year police raided a house in Pollards Hill and found a suspected backyard drug operation, seizing equipment and making one arrest.

Officers raided the house in a quiet street and found a shed that had been converted into a mini-drugs factory.

When the property was searched, officers found a concealed hothouse where hundreds of pounds worth of marijuana was being grown.

The equipment and drugs were hidden behind wooden panels in what looked like a normal shed, but it was connected to the mains so a hydroponic light could keep the heat-loving plants at their optimum growth temperature 24 hours a day.

Landlords are often requested to telephone first before turning up at the property so that they can be greeted at the door and not invited inside.

From outside the premises look like normal households other than the tell-tale signs of the curtains always being drawn and the lights always being on. However, inside the property it is a health and safety hazard.

The equipment used to produce the cannabis causes an enormous risk of fire and the tampering of the electricity supply can be extremely dangerous.

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