Whole communities blighted by surge in cannabis farms
GB News has investigated illegal cannabis farms which are bringing misery to a growing number of local communities
A GB News investigation has found a huge increase in the number of cannabis plants being seized by authorities, as illegal cannabis farms bring misery to a growing number of local communities.
More than three-quarters of a million plants were seized in England and Wales last year alone.
An increasing number of homes and businesses have suffered multiple power cuts, as organised criminal gangs cut into electricity cables to power the farms.
The community of Eastwood in central Rotherham is one of the town’s most deprived areas.
The day to day hardship faced by residents there is being compounded of late by the scourge of dozens of cannabis farms popping up in residential properties throughout the community.
In street after street there are the tell-tale signs of boarded up doors and windows on the many buildings police have already raided.
Susan Herring has lived in Bramwell Street in Eastwood for more than 50 years.
Just weeks ago police smashed their way into the neighbouring house to hers, which had been taken over by a criminal gang and used to farm cannabis.
She said she knew there was something strange about the men who moved into the property and were rarely seen by neighbours.
“You were sat there. You didn't know if there was someone in or not..” she said.
“Because you never heard them speaking. It would just be like movements.”
She praised the officers who brought an end to her weeks of uncertainty and fear.
“Police are doing everything they can but they can't be behind them 24/7"
On the day police raided the property, Susan managed to see in through the open front door.
"There were wires hanging down in the kitchen, all cannabis plants in the kitchen and a big fan on in the corner.”
Across the street from Susan, Sarah did not want to give her real name, for fear of reprisals.
She is one of hundreds of Eastwood residents to suffer regular power cuts, caused by the criminal gangs tapping into mains electricity supplies to power their cannabis crop crowing.
"We've had 33 power cuts since the end of August,” she told us.
“They each lasted about 3 hours maximum.
“On one day, we had three power cuts on the same day.”
She said the power cuts were often widespread, hitting both homes and local businesses.
"It's been an absolute nightmare. The local petrol station and corner shops have all been affected.
“They've lost thousands of pounds worth of business and we don't know where the next one is going to pop up"
New figures from the Home Office show a huge jump in the number of cannabis plants seized, from 500,448 in 2020, to 818,812 last year - an increase of 64%
That increase in illegally farmed cannabis is also seen more widely in the figures for street level drug seizures.
Of the 223,106 drug seizures in England and Wales last year, 71% were cannabis seizures.
In all, there was 168,332 class B seizures of mainly cannabis in 2021 - up 21% on the previous year.
In recent weeks, South Yorkshire police officers raided 61 cannabis farms in Eastwood and surrounding area.
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Allan Billings told GB News that criminals will most often seek out ordinary properties to set up their illegal farms.
"They're small terraced houses. It's cheap rented accommodation, so the criminal gangs that make use of them look for properties like this.
“They're in and out, they know what they're doing, they're very sophisticated and this is the root of our problem.”
Dr Billings said there were things people could look out for that might indicate criminal activity.
"It'll be single men, vans will come up. There's equipment they've got to get out. A lot of cabling, the lighting, the extractor fans, the plants themselves in pots.”
The trade in cannabis is responsible for fuelling much of the recent rise in violent crime across the country, as rival gangs fight over control of a drug that has a higher profit margin than cocaine.
South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner said: “Every one of the potted plants I see is worth about a thousand pounds altogether, so even a small terraced house might have a dozen or more in each of the rooms and every room will have plants growing in it. So that's a lot of money".
Dr Billings acknowledged the fight against the growth in cannabis farms was never ending.
For every farm raided and closed in South Yorkshire and elsewhere in the country, there are many more ready to take their place.