Cannabis farm is the 'biggest found' in Cumbria

Police in Cumbria say a tip-off alerted them to the largest cannabis farm ever found in the county - but too late to trap those cultivating hundreds of thousands of pounds of the illegal drug.

Image caption A large generator provided power to the facility

By the time police raided the large empty country house, tucked away in woodland some miles south of Penrith, the plants and the people who had tended them had vanished.

But thousands of pounds worth of equipment, rooms insulated and blacked out and extensive rewiring to a professional standard showed this was the work of a major criminal gang.

This house is awaiting renovation - the criminals somehow discovered it was empty and moved in.

A large industrial generator was taken in to provide the power - the mains supply to the house was switched off.

Thousands of pounds appears to have been invested.

Cannabis demands strong light and high temperatures. To satisfy these requirements, industrial cabling has been installed and upstairs rooms were lined with insulation before lights and heaters were fitted.

Growing it produces a very damp atmosphere, so huge ducts have been fitted for ventilation.

Insp Dave Willetts, from Cumbria Police, took me into the heart of the operation. He explained how many of the rooms had been modified to help the plants to grow.

"All the way around we have huge silver extractor fan ducting, like many of us would have in our kitchens, but instead of being a few inches wide this one is a good foot wide," he said.

A number of people would have been brought into the house to tend the growing plants, according to the police.

Image caption Air ducts and other equipment had been installed

Officers told me these are often illegal migrants. Sometimes they are repaying the gangs for bringing them into the country.

Well hidden

They have to live in complete seclusion - they cannot leave the house until the crop is taken and they must not give away their presence by showing lights, for example, according to police.

A local resident walked into a police station to report his suspicions about the well-hidden property.

When officers checked it out, it was the generator that first attracted their attention.

Their curiosity did the rest. They found a way in and, although the harvest and the workers who had tended the cannabis plants were gone, the equipment and the unmade beds they had slept in were all still there.

Even a container of washing up liquid still stood by the sink in the well-appointed kitchen.

According to Insp Willetts the police have interrupted a well organised operation.

"There is an ongoing inquiry to find out about the people in this particular case," he said.

"We believe they have taken a crop from here already, as you can see from the evidence on the floor [the occasional leaf].

Image caption Imprints of foliage were left on plastic sheets

"We have arrived here during a period of transition, so they are not able to come back."

The only remnant of the farm was the so-called mother plant - the female cannabis plant the size of a large Christmas tree from which seeds would be taken for the next crop.

It appears as if the criminals were planning to use this place again. They had even stacked a supply of specialised compost.

The police have not made any calculations on the value of the enterprise, due to the plants having been removed.

'Blacked out windows'

Evidence was taken from 31 rooms of the sizeable property.

Police are still surprised that such a relatively high-profile place was chosen for such a purpose.

Insp Willetts said people living in the countryside must help with vigilance and information if his officers were to track down the growing number of cannabis farms being established in remote properties all over the North.

"If they notice blacked out windows, strange comings and goings, people who they haven't seen around before, generators going at empty buildings, give us a call and we'll investigate it," he said.

The location of the house is being kept secret by request of the owners.

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