February 23, 2017
A large-scale cannabis factory has been found in an underground former nuclear bunker, Wiltshire police have said.
Several thousand cannabis plants with an estimated street value of £1m were seized in a raid on RGHQ Chilmark.
Six men were arrested on suspicion of cannabis production following the midnight raid on Wednesday.
There are 20 rooms in the building with almost every one converted for the wholesale production of cannabis plants, police said.
The former Ministry of Defence bunker, was built in the 1980s to protect local dignitaries and government officials in the event of a nuclear attack. Described as “almost completely impenetrable”, Wiltshire Police had to wait for the suspects to leave the bunker before they could gain access.
Det Insp Paul Franklin, said it was only after getting through the nuclear blast doors, that the “enormous set up” was discovered.
“There are approximately 20 rooms in the building, split over two floors, each 200ft long and 70ft wide,” he said. “Almost every single room had been converted for the wholesale production of cannabis plants, and there was a large amount of evidence of previous crops.”
He added that he was convinced it was “one of the largest crops ever discovered” in the county.
Three men, aged 15, 19, and 37, all of no fixed abode, were arrested on suspicion of cannabis production.
A further three men, aged 27, 30 and 45, all from Somerset, were arrested on suspicion of cannabis production and human trafficking offences.
Illegal immigrants tended £100,000 cannabis farm to pay back their traffickers
Two Albanian illegal immigrants who were caught tending a £100,000 cannabis plantation in a Gloucester warehouse have been jailed for four months each.
The pair had both come to Britain to try to find legitimate work but when they could not they were pressurised to pay the people who trafficked them into the UK, the court was told.
They were then both recruited to live in a warehouse in Barton Street, Gloucester, where the plantation was growing and their role was to keep it watered.
“That turned out to be a fairly dead end. He was then directed towards this cannabis unit and was told he would be paid £80 a week to water the plants.”
Both admitted a charge of cultivating cannabis on January 15 this year and Judge Michael Harington accepted they had a ‘lesser role’ in the illegal operation.
Jailing them for four months each he said he understood they would be deported at the completion of their sentence if not before.
Prosecutor Caighli Taylor said police raided the warehouse on 15 Jan and the defendants were the only people there. A professional growing set up was found and there were 189 thriving cannabis plants, all healthy, mature and in a flowering state.
The estimated cannabis crop from the plants would be between 5 and 15kg with a value between £50,000 and £150,000
There were hydroponic lamps, oscillating fans, extraction hoses with filters to mask the smell and the walls were all painted white to reflect the heat.
The two defendants had a small living area with beds, a fridge and a freezer.
Neither man made any comment after being arrested, said Ms Taylor.
“It is accepted that the defendants were essentially gardeners,” she said.
“You are both in this country illegally and obviously you will both be returned to Albania in the near future. Your circumstances have been explained to me and it seems to be accepted that you were both put under pressure and there were threats.”
Sabhia Pathan, for Mustavataj, said he had travelled via Austria and Belgium to get to the UK. He was then trafficked into the country and had been in the warehouse for only two-three days before he was arrested.
“His initial hope was to look for work in car washes having been advised that would be his best course of action,” she said.
“That turned out to be a fairly dead end. He was then directed towards this cannabis unit and was told he would be paid £80 a week to water the plants.
“He came to earn money to pay for rising medical bills for his mother, who is extremely ill. But those who trafficked him demanded £5,000 and threatened that his immediate family in Albania would be subject to various degrees of violence if he did not pay.”
For Toskaj, solicitor Gareth James said he had been there about a month at the time of his arrest. He played no part in abstracting electricity to power the growing system and he had not been involved in an earlier crop which had been harvested before he got there.
“His mother has also fallen ill in Albania,” he said. “He is an economic migrant who has no legitimate means of support in this country.”
Jailing the men Judge Harington said it is plain from what the police found that this was a sophisticated and substantial operation.
He said: “You are both in this country illegally and obviously you will both be returned to Albania in the near future. Your circumstances have been explained to me and it seems to be accepted that you were both put under pressure and there were threats.”