POLICE have busted one of the biggest cannabis factories ever found in South Yorkshire - seizing plants worth nearly £2 million.
Officers swooped on the drugs den - the former Fontana nightclub on Attercliffe Road, Sheffield - after locals reported the smell of cannabis in the air.
Plants were found growing in 12 rooms over three floors in the building, which more recently operated as a Chinese karaoke bar.
South Yorkshire Police described it as ‘one of the most sophisticated set-ups’ they have seen.
Heating, lighting, ventilation and watering systems had all been installed, the ceilings lowered to retain heat, and the electricity meter bypassed to avoid paying for the power needed to run all the lamps and fans.
A total of 1,966 plants at all stages of the cultivation cycle, which could have produced a crop with a street value of £1.9 million, were found.
Insp Glen Suttenwood, of Sheffield’s Gang Enforcement Team, said: “This is certainly one of the biggest cannabis finds ever across the whole of South Yorkshire - and whoever is behind it is going to be pretty hacked off.”
Business people working nearby said they watched in amazement as ‘an army’ of police officers spent hours removing cannabis plants from the building.
Mohammed Khalil, who works at TA Tooling, said: “I am amazed this was happening next door - I never really knew what the building was.
“I never smelt anything either, which is surprising if there were 2,000 plants inside.”
Insp Suttenwood praised the public for tipping off the police about the smell of cannabis.
“This came from two members of the public ringing in to tell us about a smell in the area, and then officers acting on that and carrying out their own inquiries,” he said.
“The cannabis factory was one of the most sophisticated set-ups I have ever seen - there was a lot of investment in this operation - and I cannot praise the community enough for passing on information that set us down this path.”
He said inquiries were now continuing into the possibility of any further, linked, operations.
“What you tend to find is people try to lower their risk by spreading out their plants across multiple locations,” he said. “But with the number of plants found in this one building I doubt this is the case here, although there could be other similar sized set-ups out there and we are investigating this fully to try to identify all those involved in this chain - at all levels.
“You also tend to find with these set-ups those higher up the chain try to lower the risk to themselves by employing so-called ‘gardeners’ to do their dirty work, so they keep their hands clean and rake in the money.
“For all these plants to have been taken out of circulation will certainly be hitting somebody hard.”
Two men have been remanded in custody after appearing before Sheffield magistrates charged with the cultivation of cannabis.
Anyone with any suspicions about properties being used as drug farms should call South Yorkshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.