Children are being trafficked into the UK to work in so-called "cannabis factories," according to a new police report. The "factories" are typically located in private houses, but sometimes in agricultural and commercial properties. A study for the Association of Chief Police Officers has found children are being used to tend crops, to illegally divert electricity for the factories, and to break into rival sites.
The report shows the number of "factories" discovered by the police has grown massively in recent years. Between 2004 and 2007 police discovered an average of 800 factories a year. In 2007-08 that rose to just over 3,000, and by 2009-10 it ballooned to almost 7,000. Says Commander Allan Gibson, the Association's pointman on cannabis production: "The police response is now stronger and more effective through better co-ordination and intelligence sharing between forces and other agencies and more covert operations against the operators. The level of publicity around cannabis since its reclassification in 2008 has meant that more members of the community are now reporting any unusual signs of habitation in buildings and houses which is leading to more detections."
The report claims "illegal" Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants are trafficked into the country and put to work in the factories. They can pay up to £10,000 per person to be smuggled into the UK and many then have to pay off their debts by working the cannabis factories. They are rarely, if ever, allowed to leave the property until the crop is ready to be harvested.
Even if they are found by the authorities, getting trafficked children to co-operate has proved extremely difficult: "Children identified as victims of trafficking appear extremely wary of authorities and communicate little about their experiences in exploitation or about their captors. "This may be because they are fearful for family members, as many will have unpaid debts, perhaps explaining their reasons for not disclosing information and going missing from care." The report also suggests the "criminals" who grow cannabis are involved in a range of criminal activity, such as producing and distributing other drugs, counterfeit currency, fake DVDs, money laundering, prostitution, forgery and what police call "bad on bad" crimes such as extortion, blackmail, kidnap, robbery and assault. (BBC News, Aug. 17)