Cannabis farms with an estimated annual yield of more than £5m have been uncovered by Merseyside Police during a two-week crackdown on organised crime.
In a co-ordinated campaign, officers from across Liverpool, Wirral, St Helens, Sefton and Knowsley seized 1,278 plants and dismantled 28 cannabis farms.
A total of 18 people have been arrested in connection with growing cannabis.
The two-week crackdown aimed to damage organised crime networks by seizing drugs they were growing to fund other criminal activities, such as buying Class A drugs and firearms.
During the fortnight, officers on foot were assisted by the Dog Section and the latest technology to help find cannabis farms in Merseyside.
Officers also visited DIY stores, garden centres and hydroponics outlets to raise awareness of the types of purchases made by criminals looking to set up cannabis farms, such as large quantities of compost and other growing equipment.
Police spoke with letting agencies and landlords, as many cannabis growers take advantage of short-term tenancy agreements to grow the drug.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Richardson said the results showed what could be achieved when the public shared information with the police about drugs in their communities.
He said: “To have seized 1,278 plants bound for sale on the streets of Merseyside and further afield, and shut down cannabis farms capable of generating £5.1 million a year is a significant result for Merseyside Police.
“More importantly, it is a fantastic result for our communities where the criminals who set up these farms cause considerable misery.
“This is £5 million that will not be lining criminals’ pockets, will not make them richer and will not help them commit more crime.
“Cannabis is an extremely damaging but profitable drug and the existence of cannabis farms in our communities has led to violence on our streets between rival gangs.
“Thanks to the public’s help we have uncovered 28 farms and arrested 18 people and in doing so, disrupted the criminal activities of drugs gangs.”
During the campaign, cannabis cultivations from smaller simple set-ups to large sophisticated farms were discovered and dismantled.
One of the largest was a 540-plant cannabis farm at a property in Walton Village on 22 November, with an estimated annual yield of £2.1m.
Another farm in Old Swan, in Kremlin Drive, yielded 350 plants on 23 November.
Other farms include:
• 84 plants at a cannabis farm in Banner Street, Wavertree on 24 November. A 43-year-old man from Whiston was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of cannabis
• 70 plants in Cedar Grove Toxteth on 24 November
• 200 plants in Lidderdale Road, Wavertree on 24 November
• 300 plants in Wellington Road, Wavertree on 25 November
• 20 plants in Argyle Street South on 30 November. A 28-year-old man from Tranmere was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of cannabis, abstraction of electricity and possession of class A drugs. He has been released pending a disposal decision.
• 81 plants in Empress Road, Kensington on 30 November. A 55-year-old man from Kensington was arrested on suspicion of production of cannabis, possession of cannabis, possession with intent to supply cocaine, abstraction of electricity and burglary. He has been released pending a disposal decision.
• 50 plants in Osborne Road, Prenton on 1 December. A 36-year-old man from Birkenhead was arrested on suspicion of cannabis production and abstracting electricity
• 100 plants in Mackets Lane, Halewood on 1 December alongside a large quantity of cash. A 54-year-old man from Halewood was arrested on suspicion of production of cannabis and abstract electricity.
The cannabis farms were uncovered by officers from local neighbourhood support teams and the majority of the 28 farms were then dismantled by the force’s specialist cannabis dismantling team (CDT).
Other items seized from properties include shotgun cartridges, Class A drugs and hidden cash.
Detective Chief Inspector Richardson added: “The range in size and scale of some of these farms has been vast and it is clear that they have been set up by people who are highly organised and know what they are doing.
“Many of the larger set-ups have been very sophisticated, with expensive lighting and irrigation systems to replicate the hot, humid conditions these plants need to grow.
“That equipment requires a lot of electricity, and we commonly find overloaded plug sockets posing a very real fire risk, and that electricity has been bypassed so these criminals avoid paying electricity bills.
“Officers and support staff have worked tirelessly to achieve these excellent results often in difficult conditions and it has been reassuring to have so much support from the public who have given us the information we need.
“I am sure these results will show the people of Merseyside just what we can achieve when we work together to stop drug dealing and drug supply blighting our communities.”