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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test