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Growing Problem Of Cannabis Factories

Hornsey and Crouch End Journal, 2nd March 2006

THE building looks like any that has fallen victim to a fire: charred window frames sit next to a satellite dish, with chairs and a table abandoned in the garden.

Only later - after the blaze - does it emerge, to the surprise of neighbours, that this was yet another Tottenham house converted into a cannabis factory and gutted by fire.

The house, in Oak Avenue, went up in flames, destroying thousands of pounds worth of the crop and growing equipment. It took firefighters three hours to extinguish the blaze.

It was the fifth fire of its kind this year in Tottenham and part of a growing problem - linked largely to the Vietnamese community.

Neighbours say they had no idea that the house was being used to mass-produce the drug - rarely seeing the owners, or anybody else, entering or leaving the property.

One Oak Avenue resident, who did not want to be named, said: "I didn't suspect anything. You hear about it but you do not suspect it being right across the road from your house."

Since July 2004, 52 such factories have either been discovered by police or destroyed by fire. Police are now closing them down at a rate of one per week on average.

The fires are invariably caused by the occupiers rewiring the electricity metre to avoid the massive cost of running lamps and other equipment necessary to produce the drug.

It also reduces the chance of detection through sky-rocketing electricity bills.

The practice poses a huge fire risk and the danger to other residents is a huge concern for police, who described it as "the main issue" in their investigations.

Although police have little evidence as to who, if anybody, might be orchestrating this steady increase in drug production they have confirmed that many of the factories can be linked to Haringey's Vietnamese community.

A spokesman for Haringey police said: "Intelligence suggests that many of these premises can be linked to the Vietnamese community living in Haringey.

"In Haringey we have arrested over 20 people during investigations into the illegal production of cannabis. These individuals were in relation to 12 of the 52 premises that we have closed down."

The same spokesman confirmed that the majority of those arrested were Vietnamese.

The properties are almost always rented and the occupants live in one room - dedicating the rest of the house to the production of the drug.

In one case, police are investigating a terraced Tottenham house which was being rented by a private landlord for £1,500 a month.

A study was carried out last year by the Special Crime Directorate to find the extent of the problem.

It found that across London 255 cannabis factories had been closed by police in just one year (between June 2004 and June 2005). The trend reflects not only a national upturn in the production of the drug but also a global problem.

Police were also called to Colless Road, Tottenham. An attempted break-in was reported and when they arrived at the house they discovered it was a cannabis factory.

DRUG NUMBERS
* FIFTY-two have been closed since July 2004 in Tottenham.
* SIX this year in Tottenham.
* TWENTY arrest have been made in Tottenham.
* 3.5 grams of the drug is usually sold for £10.
* ONE house a week is currently getting closed down on average.

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