Criminals using fake passports to rent properties in Yorkshire before turning them into cannabis factories as police fear rise in lockdown drug dens

Criminals are using fake passports to rent properties across Yorkshire and turning them into cannabis factories, police have revealed, as concerns also grow about more people turning to drug crime to make money during lockdown.

PC Paul Davies, of South Yorkshire Police, has launched a Cannabis Aware Scheme for landlords and letting agents encouraging them to sign up and help put a stop to drug criminality and exploitation.
PC Paul Davies, of South Yorkshire Police, has launched a Cannabis Aware Scheme for landlords and letting agents encouraging them to sign up and help put a stop to drug criminality and exploitation.

Officers say the production and sale of cannabis can often lead to the exploitation of vulnerable people and those benefiting from the profit of the drug are often part of organised crime groups that cause fear and harm to communities.

A Cannabis Aware Scheme, launched by South Yorkshire Police and targeting landlords and property agents, was implemented in a bid to deter those looking to let properties to grow cannabis, as well as help detect those that are cultivating the drug in existing lettings.

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PC Paul Davies is the officer behind the scheme and is stationed in Barnsley, where 35 landlords and letting agents have already signed up.

He said: "Before the scheme landlords and letting agents would carry out checks and follow guidelines, but once the tenant is in the property, they usually only conduct one quick check every six months. The average growing time for a cannabis plant is approximately twelve weeks, this will depend on the setup along with the knowledge and experience of the grower; so six months is potentially allowing time for two grow cycles.”

"With this scheme, landlords are checking properties they are renting between eight and ten weeks, so if there is a grow, we can get to it earlier. Also, if the landlord informs potential tenants that they will actively check properties it will be enough to pout off a future tenant with nefarious motives.

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In Barnsley, figures show 51 per cent of cannabis grows are created by foreign nationals.

A cannabis grow discovered in Royston.

PC Davies said: "The most prolific offenders are Polish and Albanian. They are using fake Italian passports to rent properties and trying to pay their rent in cash. No-one should be expecting six months worth of rent in cash, but these offenders know it makes them difficult to trace so will often want to pay this way.

"A lot of people say 'oh, it is just cannabis, it should be legalised', but it's not and it can be linked to more serious crimes.

"Criminals can find out where these grows are and bust in with weapons and steal the grows and then they become part of a larger organised crime network. Vulnerable people can also be targeted, for example those in debt or involved in substance misuse and it can become a vicious cycle.

A cannabis grow also discovered in Royston, Barnsley.

PC Davies said: "In Barnsley there were 11 grows detected between August and October 2019, compared to 21 between the same three months in 2020.

"We then saw figures levelling out and now we have seen a 25 per cent reduction in growths, saving the police around £300,000 from having to send five or six officers to the scene, having scenes of crime officers attend and then all the digital media analysis and so on. It is a big drain on police services."

PC Davies has said it is now more important that ever landlords sign up as officers fear more people may be lured into growing cannabis due to a lack of income with the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "With the Covid-19 pandemic, we have more people being furloughed and struggling to make ends meet. People may think growing cannabis is an easy option to make some money, but my message to them is it is simply not worth it and it is not worth getting a criminal record."

Any landlords interested in joining the scheme can email [email protected] for more information.