POLICE in Selby have warned of a rise in rural drugs factories after a major crackdown over the last five months saw £1m worth of cannabis and cultivation equipment seized.
Local officers from North Yorkshire Police made 77 cannabis seizures and confiscated Class A drugs 15 times as part of Operation Orate between June and November.
They have seized £745,000 of cannabis, £250,000 of equipment used in its cultivation and Class A drugs worth £5,000, conducting 39 drugs warrants and making 103 arrests.
The crackdown came after concerns from residents about drugs issues in Selby. Many supplied intelligence that helped the force to target criminals involved in cannabis supply.
Det Con Paul Johnson, North Yorkshire Police drugs co-ordinator, said: "The £1m figure doesn't surprise me.
"These are people who are looking to make money – it's a business.
"I doubt people who go out and buy a small amount of cannabis know what they are generating. They often don't look at the distribution of cannabis."
The latest seizure came last Thursday as police found 180 plants and equipment often used in cannabis cultivation, seizing more than 100 plants and arresting two local men.
The suspects, aged 33 and 49, were arrested on suspicion of cannabis cultivation and released on bail as inquiries continue.
Last month officers found 162 cannabis plants after conducting a drugs warrant at a farm in Biggin, as well as lights and other equipment often used for cannabis cultivation.
A 41-year-old man from Sherburn in Elmet was arrested at the farm on suspicion of cannabis cultivation and was later released on bail to allow investigations to continue.
Further inquiries led the police to arrest a man from York aged 31 on suspicion of being concerned in drugs production. He has also been released on police bail.
Det Con Johnson added: "It's a nationally rising problem and there's a reduced chance of detection if they grow in rural rather than urban areas. It involves lots of criminal groups. We want to minimise the harm that drugs cause.
"We focus on the drugs that cause the most misery and chaos, and those people who are involved in the distribution of them."
The biggest raid during the operation in Selby took place in August, when officers found 194 cannabis plants spread over three rooms at an industrial estate on Lunn Lane, Beal.
Two men, a 67-year-old from Pontefract and a 30-year-old from Scunthorpe, were arrested on suspicion of cannabis production and bailed.
Another raid in July saw officers find a lorry-sized container housing 120 cannabis plants at an industrial unit on Carr Street, many of which had already been harvested. Inquiries are ongoing to identify who was responsible for the factory.
A farm of 60 cannabis plants was found in the loft of a property on Volta Street, Selby, when officers conducted a warrant there in September. Cultivation equipment was also found.
A 39-year-old was arrested and released on bail.
Police estimate each cannabis plant seized has a street value of £800 to £1,000 – and apart from the four biggest seizures, their warrants have produced an average of 50 plants each.
Cannabis cultivation equipment at each warrant was valued at between £5,000 and £10,000, depending on the size of the grow.
The latest operation follows the jailing of Boa Lung Huang and Zhouli Zhang, who ran a network of cannabis farms, for murdering co-conspirator Cai Guan Chen in a drugs feud on the Elvington industrial estate, near York.
North Yorkshire Police said a Chinese crime syndicate was linked to the Elvington operation and similar illegal farms in Sheffield, Doncaster and other areas.
Published Date: 13 December 2010
By Mark Duell