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Thursday 05 December 2019

Four men who headed up a drug ring property plot saw ordinary homes turned into illegal cannabis farms after providing false documents and identities to rent out the houses.

The men rented a number of houses out across Runcorn and Merseyside before turning them into large cannabis farms as part of a widespread cannabis supply network.

It was reported the men from Runcorn, Liverpool, St Helens, and Wallasey provided false documents under fabricated names to letting agents then moved large equipment into the property to cultivate and produce cannabis.

ARLA Propertymark has previously reported on this issue where individuals had provided fake documents and identities in order to source rented properties for illegal activity.

Many criminals also use a ‘front couple’. These people will appear to be a genuine, respectable couple seeking to rent a property for their own use. After they have been shown around the property and take possession they will disappear without a trace. They will then be replaced by criminals who will convert the property for the purpose of cannabis cultivation. 

It's important that agents and landlords are aware of this illegal behavior and carry out the appropriate checks to ensure that this issue is tackled.

Police operation

During a policing operation, which began in February 2018, cannabis was seized from the organised crime group to the value of several thousand pounds.

Lee Williams of Runcorn rented several premises. In February officers raided one which he had been renting for two years and found the remains of a cannabis farm. Another property was reported as having strong smells of cannabis and burning coming from it. Inside there were large amounts of equipment used to build a drug farm. Williams also rented a home in St Helens where around 50 cannabis plants were seized from two bedrooms.

Further investigation resulted in an address in St Helens being used by Liam Miller, who also cultivated the growth of a cannabis farm. Miller was stopped by police as he accompanied John McDonough driving through Runcorn. A search of the car found items linked to cannabis cultivation including lights, transformers, and fans.

Other properties rented and controlled by the group, including McDonough’s dad were found to contain over 200 cannabis plants in a sophisticated set-up.

When arrested officers recovered £3000 in cash and two mobile phones along with a hire car containing electric drills and gloves believed to have been used to produce cannabis.

All four men pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the production of cannabis and were each sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday 29 November with sentences ranging from 18 months to over five years.

How letting agents and landlords can spot the signs of cannabis being grown in a property

Commercial cannabis growing operations can be hard to identify. Here are some factors that may indicate cannabis is being grown in a property:

• The strong and sickly-sweet smell, which is different from the smell of cannabis being smoked

• Cannabis growing equipment, for example, lighting and ventilation equipment. There may be a constant buzz of ventilation or large ducting tubes protruding out of windows

• Windows blacked out (either using black plastic or heavy fabric on windows, which are usually hidden by nets, curtains or blinds so as not to look suspicious from the street)

• Unsociable coming and going

• Strong and constant lighting day and night in the attic, roof space, basement or other rooms

• High levels of heat and condensation in a unit, resulting in peeling paint or mildewed wallboard or carpet. Heavy condensation at the windows may also be seen

• Lots of cables or electrical wiring is tampered with and bypassed circuitry

• A sudden jump/fall in electricity bills

• Bin bags full of vegetable material being thrown away. The stalks and roots of cannabis plants are discarded when the plants are harvested. Plant pot shaped root balls may be dumped in the garden

• Reflective material (e.g. tin foil) used to speed growth, and bags of soil or fertilisers stored in hallways, sheds or garages.

If you have any suspicions, you should contact your local police on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.