A suspected cannabis grower was found hiding in a wall cavity – several hours after police busted a huge drugs factory in Leeds.
As reported yesterday, officers discovered about 1,000 plants, with an estimated potential street value of £500,000, in an industrial unit in Holbeck after community support officers noticed a strong smell while on patrol.
About seven hours later a 46-year-old man, understood to be from Vietnam, was discovered in a small space in one of the walls as the factory was being dismantled.
It is thought he is one of four people who are likely to have been forced to run the farm after being trafficked into the UK by organised crime gangs.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, who has organised a meeting on the issue of trafficking and modern slavery in Leeds, said the scale of the problem was difficult to assess.
But he added: “There’s no doubt in my view that it’s an underestimated crime and something that needs putting at the top of the agenda.”
Police had found basic living quarters, including a mattress and cooking facilities, when they raided the Bath Road unit on Wednesday afternoon but there appeared to be no-one inside.
It was only when the factory was being dismantled that the man was found.
Inspector Andy Berriman, from City Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “Officers were clearing out and taking sheeting off the wall and he was there in a tiny cavity.
“We are thinking that there may be three others and it’s possible they’re all victims who have been trafficked into the country and forced to work there.”
More than 340 cannabis farms were discovered in Leeds in 2012-13.
But Bryan Dent, West Yorkshire Police’s drugs co-ordinator, said fewer were being run by gangs from Vietnam and the Far East than in the past.
“The profile has changed to indigenous crime groups,” he said.