Drugs gang ran cannabis factory next to police station

The drugs gang grew cannabis in a warehouse next to a police station. Credit: South Wales Police

A daring drugs gang was jailed for a total of 13 years for creating a huge cannabis factory - next door to a South Wales Police station.

Bold Christopher Bennett, 61, Dale Hart, 53, and Michael Smart, 37, ran a multi-million pound drugs operation right under the noses of police officers.

The brazen gang turned three industrial units into a huge cannabis growing operation turning over £850,000 every couple of months.

But their drugs factory was rumbled by businessman renting an industrial unit in the same warehouse - and reported a strong smell of cannabis to police just yards away.

Red-faced police officers raided the warehouse to discover a "sophisticated" cannabis factory just 50 yards from their own police station in Bridgend.

A court heard they uncovered 692 cannabis plants - worth a street value of £851,621 - growing in a series of plywood rooms built inside the three industrial units.

Cannabis plants found inside the warehouse. Credit: South Wales Police

The drugs operation was discovered after a strong smell of cannabis was reported to police by a member of the public. Police forced entry into units 14, 15 and 16 and discovered six internally constructed rooms in each unit and all had electric, water supplies and heat lamps. Bennett was found in the office in unit 14 and Hart and Smart were found by the front doors of units 15 and 16.

Prosecutor Stuart McLeese
Michael Anthony Smart. Credit: South Wales Police

Newport Crown Court heard the cannabis factory was set up in March 2014 and had operated without detection right next to a busy police station for eight months before being raided in November.

The court heard the set up cost was £25,000 and the men had already produced one lucrative crop of the illegal drug and were about the process their second when they were raided.

Mr McLeese said Bennett initially leased the industrial units for use in a legitimate business - until a family tragedy led him to allow a drugs gang to take over the premises.

Dale Robert Hart. Credit: South Wales Police
Christopher Bennet. Credit: South Wales Police

Bennett has pleaded guilty on the basis he took out a lease on units 15 and 16 intending to set up a wood-stripping business with his son as a means to help him recover from drug and alcohol problems. His son relapsed and pulled out of the business and Bennett said he couldn't afford to keep up rent. His son's friends stepped in and said they could take over and he allowed them in the full knowledge they intended to grow cannabis. His son died in April and Bennett said he was aware of the extend of the operation but wasn't promised any share of the crops or proceeds.

Prosecutor Stuart McLeese

Bennett claims he was only paid £350 per week and his rent of £1610 per month was paid for by the drugs gang.

Hart admitted hiring the rental vehicles used to transport the drugs and growing equipment and helping cultivate the crops.

Smart also admitted helping to grow the cannabis crop and being paid £300 per week for his work.

Hart was jailed for five years. Bennett was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and Smart was jailed for three and a half years.