To keep neighbourhoods safe from violence and intimidation, Crimestoppers has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of properties being used by criminal gangs to produce cannabis.
The charity, which is independent of the police, received over 14,000 anonymous reports in 2022 from concerned members of the public about cannabis being illegally grown in their community.
When violent gangs are behind large-scale cannabis production in either commercial or residential properties, they bring violence and intimidation. The workers have often been trafficked and exploitation is rife.
Rival gangs and opportunistic criminals break into grow houses and cannabis farms to steal crops and equipment. This could lead to violence at any time of the day and night with innocent people getting caught in the crossfire on their own doorstep. The public are encouraged to report any suspicious activity or concerns to Crimestoppers, 100% anonymously.
Key signs that a property is being used to cultivate and grow cannabis:Physical indications with the property
- A powerful distinctive sweet, sickly aroma
- Frequent visitors throughout the day and night
- Blacked out windows
- Chinks of bright light throughout the night
- Birds gathering on the roof, particularly in cold weather
- High levels of condensation on windows
- Noise from fans
- Large amounts of rubbish, including compost bags
- Electricity meter being tampered with/altered and new cabling, sometimes leading to street lighting.
Signs for letting agents and landlords to look for with a tenant
- Poor or no references from a previous letting agent
- Offering to pay several months in advance
- Preference to pay rent in cash without reasonable cause
- Wanting to keep the utility bills in a landlord’s name
- Asking for complete privacy, requesting no periodic inspections or preventing the inspection of the property even when given reasonable notice
- Changing locks to keep landlords and agents away from a property.
Illegal drug activity not only has a detrimental effect on local communities, but also on vulnerable people who are coerced or exploited into carrying out illegal activities.
Some of those working at the ‘farms’ are victims of human trafficking and are forced to work against their will. They may be tied to debt bondage, where they are tricked into working for little or no money to repay a debt. Alternatively, the home of a vulnerable person could be taken over by a drug gang, known as ‘cuckooing’.
Cannabis farms pose a serious threat to the neighbourhoods where they occur as there is a high risk of fatal fires as electricity meters are often bypassed and overloaded. Criminals are also posing as labourers, digging up roads to illegally tap into the power supply.
Mark Hallas, Chief Executive of the charity Crimestoppers, said: “We’re raising awareness of the risk of violence and intimidation that follows when criminal gangs take over properties to grow cannabis and go unchallenged. Gangs rent properties in both urban settings and rural parts of the country. Occasionally, some of these buildings - often unwittingly rented to criminals for drug production - can be left completely destroyed.
“We are encouraging the public, including property contractors and landlords, to keep their eyes open and to report any suspicious signs to our charity 100% anonymously.
“We, like you, value safe communities and since the 1980s, we have always kept our promise of anonymity to everyone who contacts us. Call 0800 555 111 at any time or use our anonymous online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org. We cannot trace calls or get IP addresses. Not even we will know your identity when you contact us to pass on vital information.”