Eight charged after huge cannabis farm discovered in disused town centre office block
A cannabis farm with the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds has been uncovered in a town centre office block.
Seven Albanian men and another from Hertfordshire have today, Wednesday, April 22, appeared in court charged connection with the discovery, which was made by police in Ridgemount House, in Bede Way, in Peterlee.
The office block, which is passed by thousands of drivers every day, is disused, with evidence people were living in the building found alongside 400 cannabis seedlings.
Although the plants were young, officers estimate that potential earnings from a mature crop could have run into several hundred thousand pounds.
Durham Constabulary carried out an operation which uncovered the factory after receiving reports of suspicious activity around the building, which is next to its bus station.
Eight men were arrested and have since been charged with being concerned in the production of a Class B drug.
Officers, who have been on the scene since Monday, have set up a series of skips as they gut electrical items and material from the farm, with cultivation equipment also found on the top floor.
They remain on site as they continue forensic searches and elsewhere in the building they have found evidence of people living on the site, including mattresses and food.
The arrested men include a 52-year-old man from Hertfordshire and seven men who are believed to be Albanian nationals, with ages ranging from 44 years to 21 years.
The discovery follows another large cannabis farm which was found in an empty factory building on the town’s Whitehouse Business Park, which led to 13 men being charged with drugs offences – all but one is believed to be Albanian.
A spokesperson for the force today said: “This is another very good result for our officers, thanks to members of the public coming forward with information.
“Although these seedlings were very young, had they grown to full maturity this would have been one of the largest cannabis farms ever discovered in County Durham and would have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“Cannabis farms are a lucrative source of income for organised criminal gangs and we’re grateful to the public for their assistance in helping us to disrupt that supply”.
All eight men appeared before magistrates in Newton Aycliffe today and were remanded in custody to reappear before Durham Crown Court on Thursday, May 21.
They are Samir Baghdadi, 52, from Hertfordshire, Kujtim Shabanaj, 44, Ksandros Lapardhaja, 23, Ledi Baxhija, 21, Daniel Kapxhio, 31, Anastas Bani, 28, Romeo Dinaku, 25, and Hekuran Xekoypan, 26.
More than 300 bags of compost seized by police during the raid have been handed over to Horden Community Garden and Peterlee Community Garden.
Approximately 30 bags of groceries which were found in the building have been donated to the East Durham Trust foodbank to support the local community.
Anyone with information on the supply of drugs in County Durham and Darlington is asked to ring police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.