Two men have each been jailed for more than three years after police uncovered a large-scale cannabis factory packed with 1,300 plants in west Cumbria.
Gjergji Braculla, 40, and Xhoni Leka, 28, were caught after an officer’s suspicions led to the discovery of the professional growing enterprise in Whitehaven.
Braculla, of Kingston Upon Thames and Leka, of Wembley, Brent, were caught on May 24 after an officer became suspicious when he saw a van parked up against the back door of a disused building in School House Lane.
The officer spoke to the driver, who ran off when a decision was made to search the van.
Inside the van was what appeared to be a haul of freshly-cut cannabis plants.
Officers then entered the building, discovering inside the cannabis factory, spread over three floors.
Further investigations led to Braculla and Leka and eventually they admitted being concerned in the production of cannabis and received sentences of 40 months each, on Monday September 7.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Scott, speaking after the sentencing, said: “This was a very professional set-up, with no outward signs that anything untoward was going on.
“The location in the town itself meant they were almost hiding in plain sight.
“But good proactive policing led to this discovery, in that a single officer saw something suspicious and acted on it immediately.
“We welcome the sentences handed out today and hope anyone tempted to become involved in such a criminal enterprise takes note.
“Our investigations into drugs crime relies on intelligence and information and we would urge anyone who has seen or knows of anything suspicious to contact us.”
Cumbria might be a largely rural county that is a safe place to live, work and visit.
But this does not mean it is immune to organised crime – and its very rural and quiet nature could make it an attractive place to set up a cannabis farm.
Officers are calling for the public to play their part and report anything suspicious.
DI Scott added: “People should be under no illusion that serious and organised crime groups operate in Cumbria.
“It is these groups who are behind the industrial levels of cannabis growth grown in the sort of places we are targeting.
“We appreciate every bit of information we get from the public.
“We have officers and PCSOs out-and-about engaging with the community every day, but we need you to tell us what is happening in your neighbourhoods.
“In particular we want to appeal to business owners and their staff to tell us if they see anything unusual near where they are working, as cannabis farms can be set up in places such as industrial units.
“Please come forward with information – everything will be reviewed and acted upon accordingly.”
Signs to watch out for include:
- Strong, sickly smells coming from properties
- Properties where the windows are constantly covered
- Excessive security around properties, such as CCTV
- High levels of unusual condensation on windows
- Lots of visitors – and at unsociable hours
- Bright lights day and night
- Constant buzz of ventilation
DI Scott, speaking about the issue in general, said: “Cannabis farms are usually run as a purely commercial entity to make money for organised crime groups through illegal means.
“Criminals are using more inventive ways to conceal cannabis grows – not just in rooms, but in the back of shops and in industrial settings where people go to work every day.
“These are illegal operations and, as such, are not subject to the usual rules that legitimate businesses follow to protect property and people.
“Cannabis farms are very dangerous places and pose a serious risk of fire.
“Often the electricity meter has been bypassed – and seriously overloaded electrical circuits run close to water-filled pipes.
“Plants grown upstairs in a building can also cause floorboards to rot, presenting the danger of collapse.
“Every cannabis farm we destroy helps prevent a vicious circle.
“The plants won’t end up as street deals, the profits won’t go on to fund other crime and they won’t ruin lives or pollute our communities.”
Anyone with information should contact police on 101 – or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.