POLICE in Barnsley responsible for seizing cannabis with an estimated street value of £3m in recent weeks have vowed to continue their crackdown on organised crime groups responsible for muscling in on communities.
The Chronicle can reveal that raids - which began intensifying last week when hundreds of plants were recovered from the vacant BrightHouse premises on Market Street in the town centre - have continued across the borough with about 1,000 plants being taken from a property on Doncaster Road, Ardsley, earlier this week.
It follows other disruption operations on Princess Street, also in the town centre, and Bolton and Goldthorpe, where two firearms and a substantial amount of cash ended up being uncovered, and a raid on the former Empire Bingo venue on Swinton Road, near Mexborough, which recovered plants worth an estimated £2.18m on Tuesday.
Police believe drug-peddling organised crime groups (OCGs) have dominated deprived areas in the Dearne, but recent investigations have shown the issue to be prevalent across Barnsley, fuelling a rise in so-called ‘county lines’ crime.
The recent seizures - totalling more than 3,000 plants - account for more than half of Barnsley officers’ typical annual amount.
Detective Inspector Stuart Hall told the Chronicle: “The BrightHouse raid shows just how brazen these criminals are as it’s on a busy street in the town centre.
“It had its shutters down, but it shows just how audacious they can be.
“We’ve had some good results in the last few weeks, but we’ll continue to take action on anyone who’s growing cannabis as it’s linked to organised crime and yields enormous profits for criminals.
“We’re talking about large, sophisticated set-ups, not someone growing a single plant in a shed.”
According to a police report into Barnsley’s OCGs, eight have been identified as being operational in the borough, with the spotlight falling on gangs said to originate from the Balkans.
It said: “The vast majority of OCGs in Barnsley are involved in drug supply.
“There are currently eight OCGs being managed through our Fortify structures.
“Each has an ‘owner’ in our proactive teams and are supported by the respective neighbourhood teams in the town.
“Every month we undertake a day of action bringing together partners together to disrupt the OCGs and gather further intelligence.
“Cannabis farms generate essential income that drives OCG activity.
“It’s not a ‘harmless’ drug in any way, shape or form - often extremely vulnerable people are recruited to look after the grows, living in appalling conditions full of fear.
“Because of this, we invest significant resources in disrupting this activity and identifying those responsible.
“It is acknowledged that further partnership involvement is required to enhance our ability to tackle organised criminality and the partnership structures are currently being strengthened.”
Dozens of Barnsley landlords have signed up to a police scheme - dubbed Cannabis Aware - in a bid to flush out illegal activities at rented properties.
The aim of the programme is to make private properties - identified as having a 95 per cent correlation with cannabis cultivation - less enticing to criminals, while also highlighting landlords who are either turning a blind eye to the activity or actively engaging in it.
DI Hall added: “We’ve had recent cases where criminals have dug up pavements with pneumatic drills in order to conceal cables which power their cannabis-growing set-ups.
“Neighbours perhaps wouldn’t think anything untoward was happening with how many roadworks have gone on in the last year, but this is occurring in broad daylight and we need the public to continue providing intelligence.”
* If you have any information about suspected drug crime in your community, you can report it to police on 101. You can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, via their website crimestoppers-uk.org or by calling 0800 555 111.