When the county’s largest ever cannabis factory was uncovered in Kettering’s Gala bingo hall last month, the question on everyone’s lips was just how had they got away with it?
With plants worth £2.8m growing right in the heart of the town centre, in one of the high street’s most prominent buildings - these were brazen criminals with no regard for the law.
And it wasn’t the first time this year that a large-scale grow house had been uncovered - just a week previous to the Gala find, another cannabis factory was uncovered in a curry house in Queen Street in the town
Two large industrial-scale factories had been found in February and March on Corby industrial estates, and many other smaller operations have since been uncovered in other towns in our part of the county.
“It’s not a new phenomenon,” says Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police Nick Adderley.
“They’ve always been there but they’ve been hiding in the shadows.
“We’ve really started to focus on it. Drug dealing is one of our priorities and we’re focusing attention on the suppliers of cannabis.
“We’ve shone a light on it and we’re going to deal with it.”
Since he arrived in Northamptonshire nearly a year ago, Chief Constable Adderley has vowed to change to culture of the force and to make every effort to transform it into the ‘best performing county force’ in two years.
Cannabis houses, he says, are just the tip of the iceberg of a network of large-scale criminal activity that involves human trafficking and organised crime.
“Our proactive teams are now being managed centrally and targeted at specific areas so that’s really helped us to focus on drugs.
“We know that where there is low-level drug dealing, we have to go back up that chain.”
Frustratingly, despite police knowing the names of those renting these large buildings, and although there have been some ‘gardeners’ arrested, there have not yet been any major court cases involving those suspected of being responsible.
Chief Cons Adderley said: “We are working with the chief crown prosecutor because these cases are sometimes taking up to two years to come to court. This is unacceptable.
“What we’re picking off during the raids is often the low-hanging fruit - those arrested for cultivating the plants are often linked to modern-day slavery and there’s a safeguarding element to our work with them.
“I don’t take pity on criminals but there are some incredibly sad stories.”
He promised that there would be further arrests to come with regard to drug supply in the north of the county.
“We are working side-by-side with the lawyers . Arrests will be forthcoming.”
Chief Cons Adderley said that the county was attractive to some dealers were coming some distance to set up cannabis factories in our towns.
“If we look at the Corby factories, then you can take it back to smaller, bit-part local players.
“But with the bingo hall, we know that was being driven and orchestrated from outside the county.
“The road infrastructure in general is suitable for them. They have easy access in and out.
“Drugs can be distributed to other parts of the country from here but they also have willing participants in our area.
“There is also a demand from the market in our local area.
“The problem has arisen because of a combination of all these things.”
Despite the major crime that is fuelled by cannabis houses, many of our readers consistently call for the drug to be legalised in comments on social media.
Chief Cons Adderley says that he would not be in favour of a change in the law.
“I look at three areas; Cost/ benefit in terms of taxation and money that would be generated for the treasury; Health issues caused by cannabis use; And the criminalisation of people.
“I could never look to support an incentive simply because it would drive money into the treasury.
“There’s still much work to be done on the impact of the long-term health issues caused by cannabis use.
“And in terms of criminalisation for personal use - well that’s already been covered off by the law.
“I’m not an advocate for legalisation because of all the safeguarding issues, the welfare issues. It just doesn’t stack up. If we legalise cannabis then people will search for the next high. And where does that end?
“It’s important that we go full-steam on this. It’s always going to be a challenge but we will try out best.”