Staffordshire Police have investigated 69 cases of stealing electricity in the last two years – and almost half involved cannabis farms.
The figures have been revealed in an analysis produced by Direct Line for Business, which estimates that, nationally, almost £8.5 million worth of insurance claims have been made for malicious damage relating to cannabis cultivation, with the volume of cannabis-related landlord insurance claims nearly doubling between 2015 and 2017.
A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: “As the figures show, when a cannabis cultivation is set up sometimes the offender chooses to bypass the energy meter and abstract electricity for the purposes of powering devices like heat lamps.
“This approach is both illegal and extremely dangerous and we would always advise people to never attempt any such work for legal reasons and their own safety. Someone convicted of abstraction of electricity could face a custodial sentence.”The research found that since the start of 2016, there have been 4,225 investigations by police into electricity theft across England and Wales, with 31 per cent of cases relating to the cultivation of illegal drugs. In total, there were 1,292 cases reported of people using electricity to grow cannabis, the equivalent of 10 each week.
Of the 69 cases investigated by Staffordshire Police, 48 per cent involved cannabis farms.
The research, which followed a Freedom of Information Request to the 43 forces in England and Wales, showed that police forces seized 318,988 cannabis plants between April 2016 and March 2017, averaging more than 900 plants a day. However, the overall number of cannabis plants seized fell by 19 per cent over 12 months, down from 393,702 in 2015/16.
A number of cannabis farms have been shut down in recent months by Staffordshire Police.They include:
An industrial unit in Stonewall Place, Silverdale, where officers seized 500 cannabis plants;
An address in Dewsbury Road, Fenton, where 700 cannabis plants were discovered, worth around £750,000;
A cannabis farm at a terraced house in Hamil Road, Burslem, where equipment used to grow drugs sparked a major fire which spread to neighbouring properties.The police spokesman added: “We take the cultivation of illegal drugs very seriously. The recent investment in neighbourhood officers will help us to improve our ability to gather local intelligence and identify cultivations earlier while also deterring more from being created in future through enhanced visibility in local communities.
“Anyone discovered to be concerned in the cultivation and supply of cannabis could face up to 14 years in prison.”
Matt Boatwright, head of Direct Line for Business, is warning landlords to keep a careful eye on their properties and watch for signs of undesirable tenants cultivating drugs.
He said: “Cannabis cultivation remains prolific across the country and is a particular concern for landlords whose properties are being used for illegal activity.The last thing a landlord wants is to find out a tenant has been using their property to grow drugs as not only will they face a police investigation, but there could also be significant damage to the property. It can cost thousands to repair the damage caused by cannabis growers as buildings are often riddled with damp and require extensive repairs.
“It is essential to conduct proper background checks on tenants, regularly inspect the property inside and out and watch out for suspicious activity such as the tenant asking to pay in cash for months in advance.”
But community leaders in Stoke-on-Trent have warned that absent landlords have rented properties without checking on their tenants, or on the buildingThere are dangers, we’ve had one or two fires around here because of cannabis farms. I think sentences should be tougher.”
Terry Cope, chairman of Greenfields Residents’ Association, said: “It’s a problem on our estate, we’ve got a few absent landlords and some don’t seem to be bothered about the state of their properties. They should be checking them.
“The landlords should take responsibility. It affects the people living around them.