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“Vicar yields drugs factory profits! Community schemes benefiting from cannabis farm closures

Saturday 10 May 2014

“Vicar yields drugs factory profits!” It sounds like a tabloid newspaper expose – but Reverend Sarah Schofield’s Black Country community project is just the latest good cause to benefit from West Midlands Police’s crackdown on drugs dens.

The force’s Cannabis Disposal Team has cleared around 150 ‘farms’ in the West Midlands already this year – on the back of dismantling 277 during 2013 – as part of the force’s commitment to rid the region’s communities of drug dealers and growers.

It takes the team’s tally to almost 1,500 since it was formed at the end of 2010 and means drugs with a street value in excess of £120-million have been seized.

Alongside the 200 tonnes of cannabis taken for incineration the team has recovered around 20,000 litres of compost and fertilizer, plus 1,000s of plant pots, gardening tools, irrigation equipment, lighting and heat lamps.

And rather than simply sending them to the tip, the items have been donated to a range of charities and good causes across the West Midlands.

One of the latest recipients is Rev Sarah Schofield (pictured front alongside Cannabis Disposal Team Manager Mike Hall) from All Saints Church in the Parish of Central Wolverhampton. She’ll be using the 700 litres of compost, tools, bamboo canes, seed trays and propagators to maintain a memorial garden and supply a community event in June when local people will be encouraged to make their own fruit and veg planters.

Rev Schofield, said: “Our local police sergeant put us in touch with the cannabis disposal team and said they may have some seized soil and equipment we could put to good use.

“We have a memorial garden behind the church that is maintained by community groups and children so the donation will really help. The water butts will be particularly handy: there’s no water supply to the garden so they’ll save our backs lugging watering cans back and forth!

“We’ve also been given gardening equipment, a ladder and hosepipes which will be put in our community ‘tool library’ where equipment can be taken out for free by All Saints residents.”

Other beneficiaries in the last year have included Darlaston Community Centre, the Central Mosque and Balsall Heath Forum who’ve all used donations for garden improvements.

Charities like Goscote Greenacres – which provides opportunities for disabled people – brain injury support group Headway Black Country, and day-care centre Ashfield Gardens have also made good use of equipment seized from drugs criminals.

Mike Hall is the Cannabis Disposal Team Manager. He said: “We know how much upset drug dealing causes in our communities…it attracts an undesirable element, tends to be linked to wider acquisitive crime and is a real concern, especially for families.

“No-one should have to live with drug dealing on their doorstep − we’re responding to community concerns, acting on the information they provide, and shutting down more and more drugs production facilities.

“When we do it would be a shame to simply destroy all the gardening paraphernalia so, by means of a little bit of community payback, we donate what we can to good causes. I personally like the idea of seized criminal assets helping community projects.”

The Cannabis Disposal Team is called upon to dismantle commercial scale drugs production – not a couple of plants in a window box – and regularly come across facilities involving extensive heat, lighting and hydroponics set-ups.

And 36 unused, boxed heat lamps confiscated from one such farm are helping stimulate grass growth at Warwickshire County Cricket Club.

The lights – fixed to a mobile structure so they can be wheeled out onto the Edgbaston pitch – were used throughout the winter to heat up the soil and replicate warmer conditions.

Head Groundsman Gary Barwell, said: “They’ve worked really well through the winter, with the heat and light stimulating grass growth, and we’ll continue using them through the year on any patches of the pitch in need of a boost.

“We’re really grateful for the donation. Many top-level football clubs with large budgets use lamps like these on a far grander scale but in country cricket where finances are tighter gestures like this are very welcome.”

West Midlands Police’s Cannabis Disposal Team model has proved so successful that it’s since been adopted by others forces across the UK, including most recently Merseyside Police.

They work closely with the force’s Drug Investigation Team, a specialist arm of CID which last year charged approximately 200 people with drug production and supply offences, as well as seizing large amounts of cash and luxury goods.

Mike Hall, added: “Cannabis farms need lots of heat and light energy, plus regular watering, so growers often tamper with power supplies, stealing electricity, and build their own irrigation systems. Dodgy electrics and water is a potentially lethal combination so our team is highly trained to safely dismantle cannabis set-ups.

“We have been called to several fires started as a result of dealers tampering with electricity supplies − so growers cause a very real fire hazard to people and property.

“We’ve had great success closing drugs factories by acting on information and suspicions provided by members of the public. Anyone who has concerns about a property in their area and believe it could be used for drug supply then please call us and we will take action.

“There are many tell-tale signs that a property is being used to grow drugs, from obvious indicators like the distinctive leafy aroma of the drugs, to blacked out windows or curtains always closed, bright lights and a constant low humming noise, to ducting tubes protruding out of windows or under the eaves.

“A property that receives lots of visitors at all hours of the day and night, usually just for short periods of time, can also be an indication it’s being used as a cannabis factory."

Anyone with information or suspicions about drug supply in their community is urged to call West Midlands Police on the 101 number or alternatively call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.