£3m taxpayer-funded gypsy camp housed a giant cannabis plantation worth up to £340,000-a-year

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Ten men are facing jail for turning a travellers’ camp built with £3million of taxpayers’ cash into a giant hidden cannabis plantation worth up to £340,000 a year.

Half of the 24 caravans at their newly-renovated Glynmill camp in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, were used as cover for a sophisticated drug-producing operation.

Their gypsy and traveller site had received a £3million grant of public money for improvements including a community hall, toilet blocks and landscaping from the Labour-run Welsh Government.

Investigation: A police swoop with more than 100 officers and 30 vehicles discovered that the Glynmill camp in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, was home to a ¿highly lucrative¿ cannabis farm

Investigation: A police swoop with more than 100 officers and 30 vehicles discovered that the Glynmill camp in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, was home to a ‘highly lucrative’ cannabis farm

Find: Half of the 24 caravans at the camp were used as cover for a sophisticated drug-producing operation

Find: Half of the 24 caravans at the camp were used as cover for a sophisticated drug-producing operation

But Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard a police swoop with more than 100 officers and 30 vehicles discovered that the camp was home to a ‘highly lucrative’ cannabis farm.

Ieuan Morris, prosecuting, said: ‘This was an organised group involved in the production of cannabis worth between £90,000 and £340,000.’

Ten men, including eight living at the Glynmill camp, confessed to their part in the hidden plantation.

Police including the National Crime Agency mounted Operation Red Lava to crack down on the gang. Riot police and horses were used in the swoop to uncover the cannabis growing in caravans.

Mr Morris said: ‘In the raid on the three acre site in February last year they discovered cannabis plants being grown with sophisticated hydroponic systems.

‘Cannabis plants of various stages of growth were recovered as was the paraphernalia associated with large scale production.

‘This was a joint enterprise, each playing a part and each knowing the nature of the operation.’

Police recovered 453 plants, including a mother plant from which all other plants were grown. The drugs were in 12 of the 24 plots on the site which was home for up to 120 people.

Going in: Police including the National Crime Agency mounted Operation Red Lava to crack down on the gang

Going in: Police including the National Crime Agency mounted Operation Red Lava to crack down on the gang

Lighting: The court heard cannabis was being grown either side of a  caravan - with one of them housing the ¿mother plant¿ from which all other cannabis plants were grown

Lighting: The court heard cannabis was being grown either side of a caravan – with one of them housing the ‘mother plant’ from which all other cannabis plants were grown

The court heard some of the travellers were paying the site manager up to £40 a day in electricity tokens to power the cannabis plantation.

Andrew Jakes, 36, Adam Jones, 23, Barry Jones, 34, Brinnie Mochan,18, Peter Gilheaney, 18, Steven Francis Gilheaney, 33, Martin Gilheaney, 27, and Peter Patrick Gilheaney, 27, all from the Glynmill camp, admitted conspiracy to produce cannabis and cannabis production.

Cannabis plants of various stages of growth were recovered as was the paraphernalia associated with large scale production
Ieuan Morris, prosecuting

Another two – Edward Probert, 27, of Pontypool, Gwent, and William Henry Williams, 20, of Merthyr Tydfil – also pleaded guilty to the same charges.

But another four living at the site were cleared when their trial collapsed because the businessman who owns the camp refused to give evidence in court.

Owner Craig William Bennett was awarded the £3million from the Welsh Government in three grants between 2011 and 2014 to improve the camp with three toilets blocks, a community hall and a school at the site.

The court heard Bennett then rented the site back to the local council who provided the camp for the travellers.

Bennett was due to be a key witness in the trial but failed to appear at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court and wrote to the prosecution saying he was not going to come.

Evidence: Police recovered 453 plants, including a mother plant from which all other plants were grown

Evidence: Police recovered 453 plants, including a mother plant from which all other plants were grown

Police probe: The drugs were in 12 of the 24 plots on the site which was home for up to 120 people

Police probe: The drugs were in 12 of the 24 plots on the site which was home for up to 120 people

The father-of-four refused to take the stand in court after being called as a witness, but he was then prosecuted for contempt of court after the trial collapsed.

He said: ‘I had no idea what was going on. I had never smelled cannabis. I had an accident seven years ago and can’t smell anything. I would not know what it smelled like anyway.’

I had no idea what was going on. I had never smelled cannabis. I had an accident seven years ago and can’t smell anything
 Craig William Bennett, site owner

Mr Bennett confirmed he was given a £3million grant from the Welsh Government to renovate the site but claimed he also put in £200,000 of his own money.

He was fined £500 for contempt of court by the judge and warned he will be jailed for 14 days if he refuses to pay up.

Judge Richard Twomlow said: ‘You deliberately failed to attend a trial involving a lot of people. That trial could not go ahead because of that failure.

‘You admitted being in contempt. You have expressed genuine concern and remorse about the position you had out yourself in.’

Among the four cleared was £450-a-week site manager William Gilheaney, 51, who claimed he had no idea of the large scale cannabis operation surrounding him.

Expensive operation: The court heard some of the travellers were paying the site manager up to £40 a day in electricity tokens to power the cannabis plantation

Expensive operation: The court heard some of the travellers were paying the site manager up to £40 a day in electricity tokens to power the cannabis plantation

New building: Their gypsy and traveller site had received a £3million grant of public money for improvements including a community hall (above), toilet blocks and landscaping from the Labour-run Welsh Government

New building: Their gypsy and traveller site had received a £3million grant of public money for improvements including a community hall (above), toilet blocks and landscaping from the Labour-run Welsh Government

The court heard cannabis was being grown either side of his rent-free caravan – with one of them housing the ‘mother plant’ from which all other cannabis plants were grown.

My message to anyone growing cannabis is that it’s only a matter of time before we find you, no matter where you are
Chief Inspector Phillip Ashby from South Wales Police

The ten men who pleaded guilty will be sentenced later for their roles in the secret cannabis site.

After the raid, Chief Inspector Phillip Ashby from South Wales Police said: ‘We were able to act on some good intelligence and put a large and complex operation together.

‘A small minority of individuals linked to the site had done their best to prevent outside engagement with the site, and it is now clear why.

‘Those arrested today can expect to be dealt with robustly – we have specially trained officers who will utilise the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure any assets suspected to be gained through criminality are seized.

‘My message to anyone growing cannabis is that it’s only a matter of time before we find you, no matter where you are.’

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