Stephen Wright, Daily Mail (London), October 16, 2007
A police crackdown on cannabis factories run by Vietnamese drug barons has been scrapped after officers were warned their actions might be racist.
Officers have identified a burgeoning industry which typically operates out of anonymous rented houses in the suburbs and shires.
They had planned to write to property landlords warning them to look out for suspicious tenancy applications.
But it is understood at least one force has been found to be in breach of the Race Relations Act after specifically referring to Vietnamese nationals in its letters.
The development has infuriated detectives seeking to break the stranglehold of Vietnamese barons, who control 75 per cent of UK production of cannabis.
Senior police sources confirmed there has been an “explosion” in Vietnamese-run cannabis factories over the past year.
Often the whole house will be given over to cultivation of the drug with a small living area reserved for the “gardener”, often an illegal immigrant, who tends the plants.
Sometimes the gangs rent up to four properties in a row from the same landlord.
Each house can produce up to four harvests a year, worth up to £600,000.
Electricity connections are often tampered with to offer a free supply to power the lighting around the plants.
Following a recent crackdown by Scotland Yard, many of the crime syndicates have relocated out of the capital to rented properties in places such as Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester and Derby.
There are now three million cannabis users in the UK and more than 60 per cent of what they use is produced here, compared to just 11 per cent ten years ago.
According to investigators, the Vietnamese gangs have a distinct four-tier structure.
There is usually a financial backer, who owns a UK business such as a nail bar or restaurant.
There is a “consultant” who travels around the country advising people how to set up a cannabis farm.
Then there is the “gardener”, and finally a seller, responsible for distribution of the drug.
The groups typically launder their vast profits in businesses, vehicles and property. Links to casinos have been uncovered in the Midlands.
Senior officers believe privately that the Government’s decision to relax the laws on cannabis is the cause of the surge in home-grown production.
Chief Superintendent Jon House, of South Yorkshire Police, said the downgrading of the drug from Class B to Class C should be reversed.
He told Police Review magazine that the factories were setting up at an “alarming” rate.
“My recommendation would be that legislation should be introduced that would hold landlords accountable,” he said.