In the most shocking and pow­er­ful sym­bol yet of our sur­ren­der in the war on drugs, po­lice swoop to raid...

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Liz Hull Turn to Page 6

WITH brazen con­tempt for the law, crim­i­nals set up a sprawl­ing £1.5 mil­lion cannabis fac­tory in a dis­used po­lice sta­tion.

Rem­nants of the mas­sive drugs farm, made up of more than 1,000 plants, were dis­cov­ered when of­fi­cers found the build­ing un­locked.

But they ar­rived too late to catch the cul­prits, who had cleared out the lu­cra­tive crop just hours be­fore.

Cam­paign­ers last night said the discovery was a hu­mil­i­a­tion for Greater Manch­ester Po­lice, which closed the Failsworth sta­tion and four oth­ers three years ago.

Crit­ics ac­cused the force of en­cour­ag­ing pro­fes­sional cannabis gangs by ef­fec­tively ‘de­crim­i­nal­is­ing’ the drug through their soft treat­ment of users.

The shocking discovery came as the Govern­ment was con­fronted with yet more ev­i­dence of the dire state of polic­ing:

The Chief inspector of Con­stab­u­lary urged un­der­staffed and in­ef­fi­cient forces to bring in rad­i­cal changes to pro­tect the pub­lic as they strug­gle to stem a surge in vi­o­lence;

A dis­turb­ing re­port found chil­dren as young as seven are be­ing drawn into ‘county lines’ gangs as drug deal­ers ‘scout’ pri­mary schools;

it was re­vealed that two PCs and a sergeant were left to cover 350 square miles of

Devon on one shift; and a video emerged of a man armed with a ham­mer smash­ing the win­dows of a po­lice sta­tion as of­fi­cers filmed them­selves talk­ing about an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour.

The cannabis farm was dis­cov­ered at Failsworth sta­tion in Old­ham on Wed­nes­day. The en­tire first floor of the build­ing, in­clud­ing the inspector’s of­fice, and loft had been taken over for the plants.

The sta­tion was shut fol­low­ing bud­get cuts six years ago and sold via auc­tion to a pri­vate owner. De­spite the near­est oper­a­tional po­lice sta­tion be­ing less than a mile away, no-one had no­ticed that the build­ing was be­ing used to grow drugs.

When of­fi­cers searched the build­ing, they dis­cov­ered plant root balls, soil, empty pots and hy­dro­ponic light­ing equip­ment used to cultivate the class B drug.

They ad­mit­ted it was ‘a bit sur­real’, adding in an on­line post: ‘Of­fi­cers found the premises in­se­cure and on en­ter­ing found the rem­nants of a huge cannabis pro­duc­tion. All first-floor rooms and loft space had been used to grow over 1,000 plants.

‘ It is be­lieved the grow was “taxed” in the early hours of this morn­ing, where all the cannabis plants had been re­moved.’

Res­i­dents said crim­i­nals smashed and boarded up win­dows to hide the bright lights needed to cul­tia vate plants. Po­lice said the elec­tric­ity me­ter had been by­passed.

But no- one who spoke to the Daily Mail yes­ter­day said they had smelled the drug or re­alised what was go­ing on.

One res­i­dent who saw the grow­ers leave the premises said: ‘I tried to get a look at the num­ber plate (but) he turned his head­lights full on to blind me then shot off. Then the other guy left and I saw he had large box in the back seat. I heard po­lice found two camp beds in there so they must have been in there all this time.’

David Green, di­rec­tor of the Civ­i­tas think-tank, said: ‘Most of these grow­ers know that very lit­tle will hap­pen to them if they are de­tected. The po­lice don’t seem to be in­ter­ested in cannabis.

‘Where people are found to be grow­ing huge amounts of cannabis they ought to be pros­e­cuted ac­cord­ingly, but they are not. There are no con­se­quences. We are ef­fec­tively seeing le­gal­i­sa­tion by the back door.

‘It is rather ironic that a cannabis farm has been found in a dis­used po­lice sta­tion. I’m sure these of­fend­ers couldn’t re­sist and got more than a lit­tle sat­is­fac­tion from that fact.’

Mary Brett, chair­man of the Cannabis Skunk Sense cam­paign group, said po­lice forces were not ‘proac­tive’ enough about root­ing out those us­ing, grow­ing or deal­ing cannabis. She added: ‘The po­lice aren’t in­ter­ested in cannabis in any

‘The po­lice don’t seem in­ter­ested’

shape or form. I un­der­stand he­li­copters are ex­pen­sive, but why can’t po­lice forces find these farms by send­ing up drones with heat­seek­ing cam­eras?

‘They should be keep­ing an eye on these big empty build­ings or at least en­cour­age the pub­lic to re­port it when they smell the drug.’

Failsworth po­lice sta­tion was one of five sta­tions auc­tioned off by Greater Manch­ester Po­lice in 2016. It raised nearly £1 mil­lion for the force, as well as sav­ing £100,000 a year in run­ning costs.

A £3 mil­lion cannabis fac­tory was found in­side a for­mer bingo hall in Northamp­ton­shire last month. Oth­ers have been found in empty banks, GP surg­eries, sports cen­tres and even a nu­clear bunker in Wilt­shire. Many are con­trolled by Viet­namese or Al­ba­nian gangs, of­ten us­ing traf­ficked slaves as their

min­ders and ‘gar­den­ers’. Cannabis has been linked to de­pres­sion, sui­ci­dal thoughts and psy­chosis, which causes hal­lu­ci­na­tions. Many fear it acts as a gate­way to harder drugs. In May, the head of NHS Eng­land, Si­mon Stevens, said Bri­tain risked mak­ing a ‘big mis­take’ by re­lax­ing cannabis laws.

De­spite the warn­ings, some po­lice chiefs are ac­tively call­ing for the drug to be le­galised, while oth­ers have urged of­fi­cers to be even more le­nient with of­fend­ers. The Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion, which rep­re­sents rank-and-file of­fi­cers, also said forces were hav­ing to ‘pri­ori­tise re­sources’.

Ear­lier this year Greater Manch­ester Chief Con­sta­ble Ian Hop­kins was widely con­demned af­ter ad­mit­ting that up to half of crimes re­ported to the force were ‘screened out’ and dropped within 24 hours.

FOR­MER PO­LICE HQ Drug den: The for­mer Failsworth po­lice sta­tion near Old­ham, where of­fi­cers found the rem­nants, above, of a £1.5mil­lion cannabis farm


Hasty de­par­ture: Of­fi­cers found plant pots, root balls and light­ing equip­ment – but only dead cannabis plants re­mained in the build­ing

Grow­ing industry: The drugs farm was found in this dis­used po­lice sta­tion on Wed­nes­day

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