Drug gang leader jailed for turning Peterlee office block into cannabis farm has £300k confiscated

Officers found around 400 cannabis plants during a raid on Ridgemount House, in Peterlee, in 2020. Credit: Durham Constabulary/Google

A drug gang leader who was jailed for converting two storeys of a town centre office block into a cannabis farm will have more than £300,000 confiscated in addition to his jail sentence.

As part of a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing at Leeds Crown Court on Monday 19 December, Samir Baghdadi was handed a confiscation order of £304,028.

The investigation, led by Barry Dixon, of the North East Regional Economic Crime Unit (NE RECU), followed Baghdadi’s conviction by Durham Police for being concerned in the production of a Class B drug after officers found around 400 cannabis plants during a raid on Ridgemount House, in Peterlee, in 2020.

The 55-year-old had converted two-storeys of the landmark building for use as a drug farm, complete with sleeping quarters, food supplies and cooking utensils on one floor and cannabis plants on another.

Police acted following reports from the public of double mattresses being moved into the vacant building. Raids revealed Baghdadi with seven other accomplices on the premises.

The farm was complete with sleeping quarters and cooking utensils. Credit: Durham Constabulary

Baghdadi denied knowing of the men’s existence in the building but all eight were arrested at the scene and were charged with being concerned in the production of a Class B drug.

Baghdadi, of Hertfordshire, was found guilty following a trial and sentenced to seven years in prison.

The drug farm set-up was examined by a police drugs expert who estimated that the plants had a current value of £5,000 with a potential earnings value of £147,000 to £252,000 if the farm was fully operational. The value of the equipment used was estimated at £59,000.

And despite claiming large sums of cash going into his account at that time were from legitimate sales of tyres, investigators put it to the court that it was a result of Baghdadi’s illegal activity.

Detective Sergeant Jenna Cook, of Durham Police, described it as a "long and complex case".

He said: "Baghdadi was an individual who moved into our area to commit his crime. He claimed ignorance to the drugs found at his property but through investigation he was shown to be a skilled criminal operating at a high level along with others involved.

"Durham Constabulary do not tolerate criminals operating in our area and action will be taken against them."

Detective Sergeant Thomas Maughan, of NE RECU, added: "Baghdadi still proclaims his innocence, and even with the assistance of a forensic accountant has failed to show that a vast amount of cash being paid into his accounts was solely from his tyre business in Tottenham.

"The Proceeds of Crime Act has correctly allowed the court to assume a proportion of this cash was from his drug trafficking even though he was only caught at this one office block in Peterlee.

"At the time, he owned several other office blocks across the country, and it’s probable that at some stage these also had industrial-sized cannabis farms in them, or were bought for that purpose but never came into being due to his arrest by Durham Constabulary."

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