Bedfordshire Police said that a number of drugs warrants, arrests and the discovery of a number of cannabis factories highlights some of the progress it has made in cracking down on cannabis cultivation, county lines and criminal exploitation since the beginning of the month.
On 18 March 2021, officers raided a large unit on an industrial estate near Great Barford and found hundreds of cannabis plants at various growing stages in a number of rooms worth tens of thousands of pounds. A car worth around £170,000 was also seized.
A man in his 60s was arrested at the scene on suspicion of cultivating cannabis and possessing an offensive weapon. He has since been released on police bail.
This is just one of a number of cannabis factories that have been found and dismantled over the last few weeks, with large scale operations found in Bedford, Meppershall, Tingrith and Leighton Buzzard.
There are growing concerns that organised crime gangs involved in criminality such as county lines, are increasingly recruiting and exploiting children into dealing the Class B drug.
As a result, many organised crime groups are believed to be involved in large scale cannabis production and supply locally.
By destroying and disrupting these operations, police can help protect people from falling victim to other crimes as a result of this, such as exploitation and gang violence, which is often involved in the distribution of drugs.
A number of warrants have also been carried out throughout the county this month in relation to county lines drugs gangs involved in the street supply of drugs.
These operations have resulted in a number of people being arrested on suspicion of supplying drugs and in one instance, one man was arrested on suspicion of forced labour.
During the searches, large quantities of cash and both Class A and Class B drugs were seized, along with a machete and a samurai sword.
It is believed that there are around 20 county drugs lines operating in Bedfordshire at any one time.
Since April 2020, police have disrupted a total of 19 county lines, which has resulted in 33 arrests. Around £130,000 in cash and £136,000 in cash value of Class A and B drugs have been seized.
Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Glynn said:
“Organised criminal gangs use drugs as their main source of income, and growing and selling cannabis is a key part of this business model. It is relatively cheap to produce and there are thousands of customers in Bedfordshire alone to sell to.
“These gangs then deliberately exploit young and vulnerable people, and drive much of the violence and antisocial behaviour that blights our communities. Very few of these vulnerable people earn a great deal of money and they are merely exploited through their circumstances and fear of violence.
“These groups are commonly involved in the cultivation of cannabis and large factories for production. They are then using the returns to fund the supply of Class A drugs, and are involved in firearms trafficking, money laundering, modern slavery and human trafficking.
“Nearly all of our investigations into county lines have identified vulnerable or exploited children being used to run the drugs. This is why we have worked closely with our partners to launch a new campaign – Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) – which aims to shine a light on exploitation and raise awareness around things like modern slavery, cuckooing and criminal exploitation in the county.
“We are working tirelessly to crackdown on these crime types and will continue to make our county a hostile place for anyone looking to run drugs lines into our communities or exploit vulnerable people to further their criminal enterprise.”
Anyone with information about drug activity can contact police on 101 or via the online reporting centre on the Bedfordshire Police website at www.bedfordshire.police.uk/report.
All these reports are fed into police intelligence systems and can help officers build up a picture of organised crime in the county.
People can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
To find out more about the work Bedfordshire Police is doing to tackle violence and exploitation in Bedfordshire, visit www.bavex.co.uk.