Gang's £60m drug business was among biggest in UK

A gang which ran a £60 million drug business from a set of isolated farm buildings was heading one of the biggest operations in the country, police said today.

The trade was based at several "highly secure" farm buildings in Swindon, Wiltshire, as well as at an industrial unit near Hungerford, in Berkshire.



The importation and distribution of the cannabis skunk had a "devastating effect" on the lives of thousands of people, Wiltshire Police said.



David Barnes, 41, from Hungerford, Michael Woodage, 51, from Whitchurch, Hampshire, and Christopher Wills, 29, from Bracknell, Berkshire, were found guilty today at Bristol Crown Court following a six-week trial.



A fourth man, Stephen Docking, was acquitted.



Five others, Nigel Hyland, 50, from Laburnum Road, Swindon, Franciscus Kattekamp, 38, from Kaatsheuvel in Holland, Alexander Post, 34, from Belvedere, Kent, Emma Stevens, 39, from Bracknell, and Paul Atkins, 30, from Binfield, Bracknell, had already pleaded guilty to their involvement.



The scheme began to unravel on April 24 this year when Wiltshire Police stopped a van being driven on the M4 travelling towards London.



It was found to contain 50kg of cannabis skunk with an estimated street value of £225,000.



In the early hours of the next day officers stopped a Transit van, being driven by Woodage, on an isolated farm in Wanborough, Swindon, and found it holding 226kg of cannabis skunk with a street value of over £1 million.



Buildings on the farm, which was leased by Barnes, were covered by high-tech security systems and found to contain fork-lift trucks, shrink-wrapping equipment and other drugs-related items consistent with a "distribution centre" set-up.



Ledgers were discovered which linked the farm with the importation and distribution of approximately 10 tons of cannabis skunk with a street value of approximately £60 million in a 14-week period.



Another search was carried out at an industrial unit, leased by Woodage, in Whittonditch, Ramsbury, near Hungerford, in May last year. That also contained equipment usually used to fit out a drug-distribution centre.



As a result of the Operation Scarlet investigation nine people were arrested and charged in connection with the supply of class B drugs.



Following today's verdict Chief Inspector Owen Gillard, who headed the investigation, said: "Operation Scarlet has been the largest operation of this nature in Wiltshire, and is certainly one of the largest drugs operations throughout the United Kingdom.



"The actions of those found guilty today for their role in the distribution of around £60 million worth of cannabis skunk have probably had a devastating effect on the lives of thousands of people all over the country.



"Not only does it destroy individuals' lives but also that of their family and friends. The resulting crime associated with drugs has an even farther-reaching and equally dramatic effect on people, businesses and communities.



"Today's verdicts should send a clear message that we are absolutely determined as a police service to work with partner agencies to tackle the manufacture, production and distribution of drugs and justifies the efforts of our officers and legal team who have worked tirelessly to ensure we have been able to assist the court in reaching its decision.



"We are here to protect the public and are committed to dismantling these organised crime groups.



"We will pursue them through the courts to recover the assets they have made from crime and invest this back into protecting our communities.



"If you are criminally involved in groups like this one you can rest assured that we will catch up with you and we will be knocking on your door."



Sentencing was adjourned until July 23.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little