Cash-strapped residents in Leeds are turning to crime and converting their homes into cannabis farms to make ends meet, the YEP can reveal.
A Leeds City Council report said there was evidence a cannabis-growing “cottage industry” had sprung up in parts of the city because of the difficult financial climate.
Police say the profile of the typical grower has changed – from organised, predominantly South East Asian gangs to native Loiners, many of whom have no criminal history.
Small-scale growing operations are being found in increasing numbers in more affluent parts of north Leeds.
A report to Leeds City Council’s inner south area committee said: “The current financial climate may be encouraging certain members of the community to develop their own cottage industry, cultivating small cannabis farms for additional income.”
The report said the neighbourhood policing teams (NPTs) in Holbeck and Rothwell were uncovering “a large number of cannabis farms” in domestic and commercial premises.
In one recent case, 400 plants were discovered in raids on properties on Cross Flatts Avenue and Parkfield Road in Beeston Hill.
But Sgt Jon Arrowsuch, of Holbeck neighbourhood policing team, said officers were coming across more small-scale home-based factories.
He said: “We aren’t seeing so much of the major organised farming. It’s a lot more local people who are doing it – people taking over a bedroom or a loft space and doing it on a slightly smaller scale.”
The situation is mirrored in north Leeds.
Two small cannabis farms were found in Horsforth in the space of three days this month.
Insp Richard Coldwell, of the Aireborough and Wharefdale neighbourhood policing team, said: “You might think it only happens in run-down areas, but we are finding them in very nice residential neighbourhoods in places like Horsforth and Guiseley.”
“A couple of years ago all the convictions going through the courts were Thai and Vietnamese criminals, certainly in my area. We’re not seeing that now – it’s a lot more people who are native to the area.
“We are seeing people who have jobs, who have never had a criminal record, who aren’t career criminals, diversifying and trying their hand at it.”
Sentencing a cannabis grower last November, Leeds Crown Court Judge Kerry MacGill raised concerns about the proliferation of small-scale farms.
She said: “This is becoming a cottage industry now. People seem to say, ‘well, I will grow cannabis and it will be all right’.”
West Yorkshire Police base their figures for cannabis farm finds on seizures of 25 plants or more.
Last year there were 382 such operations found in Leeds – an increase from 366 in 2010.