Cannabis: How drug farmers are being weeded out in the West Midlands

"Get the kettle on, I'm coming round your house" – that's the message to any aspiring criminals by West Midlands Police's cannabis buster, the man who has been seizing plants across the region for nearly nine years.

Police showcase one of the cannabis factories discovered in the West Midlands
Police showcase one of the cannabis factories discovered in the West Midlands

Acting on tip-offs from the public, Mike Hall and his disposal team smash around three cannabis farms a day, leaving plants to rot and die, recycling any equipment for metal and donating any gardening equipment back to the community.

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Since the group started in 2010 they have seized and destroyed hundreds of thousands of plants. Major finds include a 2,400 plant, £2.5 million haul at a premises on Brownhills Business Park in August last year and a £1m bust at a Wolverhampton drugs factory just three weeks prior.

Latest Home Office figures show the number of cannabis plant seizures is rising across the region, but Mr Hall says there has been a "steadying off" in the number of raids he and his team carry out, something he believes is down to criminals having to operate in a "hostile environment" due to the hard work of his team and the due diligence of the public.

'People do not want a cannabis farm in their street'

Mr Hall explained: "There's a steadying off of the number of raids but I think part of that is down to how successful we have been.

"People do not want cannabis farms in their street so we get a lot of community intelligence from people who want us to take action and I think that is making it a hostile environment for the criminals to operate in.

"They might move onto other places and other police forces have to deal with them but in our region we have a good effect on this type of crime.

"We see spikes up and down, sometimes there is a seasonal increase in the number of cannabis farms that we see. Sometimes it pitches up, sometimes it pitches down.

Mike Hall

"If you take out the operation of an organised crime gang they need time to re-organise, which is a reason behind the spikes.

But we're seeing some good effects from our work and it's a good way to target organised crime as it targets their pocket – the place where it hurts.

Organised crime gangs are the biggest cultivators of cannabis. From our point of view we try and keep up the momentum so they do not have time to re-organise to that level."

Asked about how his team operates, he continued: "Our intelligence is mostly coming in from the public.

"The public understand now that one report doesn't quite do it and we need to get more information in order to convince a magistrate to give us a warrant.

"So we do have a continuation of information coming in with people reporting the movements of cannabis farms and that helps us to build up a picture and go out and take positive action in the community.

"There is a lot of great pro-active work done by neighbourhood teams across the West Midlands because, after all, this is a neighbourhood issue.

"People do not want these farms in their community or neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood teams work with the public to make sure they're on top of this.

"We dispose of the plants by letting them go to rot. Once they have gone to rot we put them into compost to get rid of them.

"We do not burn anything anymore, we have tried to move towards more environmentally friendly areas.

"The plants will go to compost, the equipment we take away will be recycled for the metal and any usable gardening equipment, which is just normal gardening equipment that has been diverted for criminal use, we'll keep that in a pile and members of the public from different groups and organisations get in touch with us.

"Where we can find stuff and we've got it we will let people have it, but it's only limited by what we find."

How to spot a cannabis factory:

  • A strong, pungent smell coming from the building.

  • Electrical wiring that has been tampered with.

  • Powerful lights left on all of the time.

  • Windows blacked out.

  • A sudden increase in electricity bills.

  • Large quantities of rubbish - bin bags full of vegetable matter.

Cannabis crackdown supports community

One of the big things that Mr Hall's cannabis disposal team does is donate any gardening equipment it seizes from the criminals.

This means schools, community groups, old people's homes etc are benefitting as more and more cannabis farms are shut down.

Mr Hall said: "The process of growing cannabis illegally indoors involves gardening equipment. So what we tend to do with that to prevent further offences, once we have dealt with the evidential side of it, is with anything salvageable that can be used by the community we move on and give it to whoever can benefit the widest from it. Schools are ideal because they obviously get a wide benefit, but community groups, old people's homes, all places like that we donate to.

"The very fact we donate soil is we're taking away criminals' initial investment and destroying their future profit. They can only absorb so much of that fund loss."

To anyone wanting to report a cannabis farm, Mr Hall said simply: "Please get in touch, it's what we're here for."

To report a cannabis factory call police on 101.

Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or at crimestoppers-uk.org

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