CANNABIS FARM FOUND ON CRYSTAL PALACE PARADE – Estate agents jailed
Police who raided a former bar underneath premises on Crystal Palace Parade found 125 cannabis plants with a street value of almost £500,000.
Two estate agents who turned up while the raid was in progress were arrested – and the subsequent police investigation would show that one of them had managed up to seven properties which had been used as cannabis factories.
The Crystal Palace Parade factory consisted of four low, interlinked tunnels each housing approximately 125 cannabis plants (526 in total) which were lit with a sophisticated timed lighting system. The cannabis plants were estimated to have a street value of £497,000.
The premises was also found to be abstracting electricity with a complex heating, lighting and ventilation system installed, bypassing the electricity meter at the address and all controlled via a commercial grade fuse box.
No suspects were found inside the building when officers from Lewisham’s Proactive Unit executed a drugs warrant entered the basement premises. But two men later arrived at the property whilst officers were still at the address.
The men identified themselves as being the letting agents for the property. One was the manager of ‘Home to Home’ estate agents and the second man was his employee.
Officers spoke to the men to identify the tenant of the address and were told that they did not have the details as it was rented to a man they had met in a pub who had paid £300 in cash. He did not provide any identification. Due to the explanation the pair provided they were arrested for conspiracy to supply cannabis.
Following the arrests a search was carried out at the offices of Home to Home estate agents along with a search of the homes of the manager and the employee.
At the estate agents’ office, no tenancy agreement could be found relating to the letting out of the Crystal Palace Parade address.
At the employee’s home address paperwork was found that showed he was in debt and at the manager’s home address a large quantity of cash was found (over £60,000) which he could not account for. A number of documents were also seized from the offices.
Both men were interviewed and both insisted there was a tenancy agreement but could not account for who actually filled it in.
The men were later bailed whilst officers conducted more enquiries into their activities. The manager was told he must attend a police station to produce the tenancy agreement for the property at Crystal Palace Parade which he produced on 21 February 2013.
A forensic analysis of the tenancy agreement was conducted and showed only the manager’s fingerprints, not that of the employee’s, which suggested the agreement was produced by the manager following his arrest (a signature similar to the manager’s was also discovered on the agreement).
Following the discovery of the cannabis plants by officers at Crystal Palace Parade, there were also three pairs of gloves found at the address containing the DNA of an accomplice.
Officers determined that the accomplice was involved in the production of the cannabis. Research into the tenancy agreement produced by the manager showed the phantom tenant had a similar address, date of birth and same bank as the accomplice.
A thorough investigation was carried out into all properties owned and managed by Home to Home estate agents in September 2013 which led to another cannabis factory being discovered at a property on Dartmouth Road, SE26 in September 2013. Another tenancy agreement was found in the accomplice’s bag, produced by to Home to Home estate agents dated August 2013.
A forensic analysis of the plants found at Dartmouth Road, SE26 showed that they would have been ready for harvest six weeks after their discovery by officers and the typical growth cycle for a cannabis factory, grown indoors under similar conditions would be three/four months. It was estimated that the cannabis factory would have been in progress for two/three months, at least one month prior to the date of the tenancy agreement.
During the course of the investigation it was discovered that there were at least seven properties that had been managed by the manager at Home to Home estate agents that had been used as cannabis factories, which together had the potential to produce an annual revenue of over £2 million (street value).
The manager and employee were charged on 27 August 2014 and the accomplice was charged on 3 September 2014.
The manager, aged 51, was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday, 15 April to five years imprisonment on one count of conspiracy to produce cannabis and six counts of permitting a premises to be used as a cannabis factory.
The employee, aged 47, was sentenced on the same day to three years imprisonment on one count conspiracy to produce cannabis and four counts of permitting a premises to be used as a cannabis factory.
Both men were found guilty of the offences on Tuesday, 9 February at the same court following a three-week trial.
The 37-year-old accomplice had been jailed for five years and six months on Tuesday, 16 February at the same court after he was found guilty alongside the manager and employeet of conspiracy to produce cannabis and for the production of cannabis in relation to another unconnected incident in Essex.
Det. Con Kirsty Marchi, the investigating officer from Lewisham, said: “I am pleased we have put a stop to their criminal enterprise. “The owners of the properties who placed their trust in the manager had no knowledge that he would use their premises in order to produce drugs.”