Independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers is today launching the second phase of its campaign to tackle cannabis cultivation in areas across the UK, following on from the success of its first project last year.
Once again, the charity and police forces across the country will be distributing “scratch and sniff” cards to the public to educate and inform them about the signs to spot and the specific smell of cannabis when it is growing. Hot spot areas, as informed by police intelligence, will be targeted by a total of 17 police forces throughout the UK.
Cannabis cultivation by criminal gangs can harm individuals and their neighbourhoods. When criminal gangs grow cannabis they often rent residential properties such as flats or suburban houses and may bring serious crime into communities including gun crime, power theft and human trafficking. Organised criminals see cannabis cultivation as a low risk, high profit venture, and use it to fund a range of other criminal activities such as trafficking Class A drugs. There is clear evidence that serious and organised criminal groups are using cannabis cultivation as a means to further their criminal activity.
According to the most recent UK Human Trafficking Centre Baseline Assessment on the nature and scale of human trafficking in 2012, of the 362 potential victims who were reported to have been criminally exploited, 69 (19%) were exploited for cannabis cultivation. Of those potential victims trafficked for cannabis cultivation, 56 (81%) were children. The number of potential victims who were reported to have been trafficked for cannabis cultivation increased by 130% from 2011 to 2012 (30 to 69).
The last campaign, launched in March 2013, was hugely successful with information passed to Crimestoppers on cannabis cultivation increasing 28 per cent in the month following the launch. Over 800 pieces of information were passed to law enforcement in the first week about cannabis-related crime – an increase of 59 per cent on the previous seven days. This information contributed to new cannabis farms being discovered and a number of arrests.
A number of organisations affected by cannabis cultivation are this year supporting the campaign, including property sector trade associations, energy companies, Neighbourhood Watch and the Chief Fire Officers Association.
Cannabis cultivation can cause huge damage to property which may not be covered by insurance, and can result in loss of rent whilst properties are repaired. Growing equipment and excessive energy supplies used to manufacture the drugs can also increase the chance of a fire.
As reported last year, the cost of cannabis cultivation can also be inflicted on innocent members of the public. In July 2013, energy regulator OFGEM confirmed that a third of all costs relating to energy theft came as a result of cannabis cultivation – amounting to around £70 million. Energy companies are working hard to combat energy theft and that is why they are endorsing thiscampaign.
Since Crimestoppers began in 1988, the charity has helped to seize illegal drugs with a street value of over £312 million. Around half of all information that is passed to Crimestoppers every year is about drugs offences so the public are clearly concerned about the affect crimes such as cannabis cultivation can have on their community.
Founder and Chairman of Crimestoppers, Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC said: “The campaign run by Crimestoppers last year highlighted just how much people care about removing cannabis farms from their community."
“Quite often, those running cannabis cultivation operations are also involved in other serious and organised crime, such as human trafficking and possession of weapons. So I would urge the public to contact Crimestoppers in order to try and keep their communities free from cannabis farms.”
Crimestoppers Director of Operations, Roger Critchell said: “The Scratch and Sniff cards were well received last year, a fact that was supported by the increase in information we received in the weeks after the campaign launched.
“This is a crime that can lead to much more serious incidents which is why we feel it’s important to reinforce our appeal for information from the public. We’re not looking to target individual users, we’re looking at something much bigger here, something much more dangerous, and we are targeting serious and organised crime groups who are involved in this illicit trade.”
Home Office Crime Prevention Minister, Norman Baker said: “There is a strong link between commercial cannabis cultivation and organised crime, with the same gangs often involved in further criminality such as modern slavery, trafficking and the use of firearms.
“We are determined to protect and support victims and pursue criminals making money from the misery of innocent people.
“Initiatives like the Crimestoppers campaign are invaluable in helping frontline officers protect society by stopping the supply of harmful drugs and cracking down on related crime.”
National Police Lead for Cannabis, Chief Superintendent Bill Jephson said:
“Those who commercially cultivate cannabis are serious and organised criminals often involved in other criminal ventures. Houses in residential areas are used to produce the cannabis, which brings violent offenders into the heart of our communities and leads to a real risk of fire and flood.
“We’re working with Crimestoppers again this year to fight back and keep our communities safe.
“Ordinary people who come forward and share their concerns will be our best source of information. The campaign explains the tell-tale signs that a cannabis farm exists and how people can ensure the information they have gets to the police in confidence. I would urge everyone to act as our eyes and ears or, in this case, our noses to sniff out the criminals.”
Crimestoppers is asking members of the public to pass on any information about cannabis farms anonymously by telephoning 0800 555 111 or via our Anonymous Online Form via c. Both routes are 100% anonymous – names are not taken, calls and IP addresses are not traced or recorded and people do not have to go to court. To find out more about the campaign visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org/scratchandsniff.