Shock over drug farm after shooting

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The Independent Online

Villagers have spoken of their shock after detectives investigating the shooting of a suspected burglar found a "well-organised and large-scale" cannabis farm during forensic searches.

West Mercia Police said a 60-year-old man, named by neighbours as Malcolm White, was still being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder and of cultivating controlled drugs after the shooting incident late on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, officers investigating the alleged break-in at White's home in Whitbourne, Herefordshire, have arrested a second man on suspicion of burglary.

The shooting victim was found with leg wounds in the nearby village of Leigh Sinton, Worcestershire, at about 8pm on Wednesday with another man who was arrested on suspicion of burglary.

A police spokesman said the injured man remains in a serious but stable condition at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and confirmed that a male in his 20s was arrested last night in the West Midlands area in connection with the burglary.

A woman, in her 50s, is also being held of suspicion of cultivating controlled drugs.

White, a retired clockmaker, is thought to have moved to Whitbourne from the Birmingham area around four years ago and was described by neighbours as a quiet and ordinary man who kept himself to himself.

The Rev David Howell, the rector of St John the Baptist Church in Whitbourne, said White was a divorcee who lived with his new partner at a substantial cottage and smallholding.

The clergyman said: "He has been here about four or five years. He seemed a quiet sort of chap who had just come to live the good life."

White had carried out maintenance work on the village church's clock on several occasions and had not asked for any payment.

Asked for his views on the discovery of a cannabis farm at the smallholding, the Rev Howell replied: "I think most people will be shocked.

"The first thing I knew (of the shooting incident) was when I came home and there was a police car blocking the lane."

The presence of the police car was unusual in Whitbourne, the Rev Howell added, and it was obvious that the incident was serious when the lane remained blocked off yesterday.

The police spokesman said the cordon in Whitbourne remains in place, but a road closure in Leigh Sinton has been lifted.

No one else is being sought in connection with the inquiry, the spokesman added.

Police disclosed last night that officers carrying out forensic work at the property in Whitbourne had discovered a cannabis cultivation "operation" inside.

Detective Superintendent Ivan Powell, of Hereford CID, said: "I can confirm that as a result of this discovery at the property the man in his 60s who was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder has also now been arrested on suspicion of cultivation of controlled drugs.

"In addition a woman in her late 50s is also now in police custody on suspicion of cultivation of controlled drugs as part of our investigation.

"I would like to reiterate that this is a major investigation and that we are continuing to look at a number of possible lines of inquiry.

"One of these lines of inquiry is attempting to establish whether the individuals involved knew each other prior to the events of last night.

"Many wild theories appear to be circulating about this incident - most of which are completely inaccurate - and I would therefore ask that the press are responsible in terms of what they report."

More than 50 large cannabis plants and an unspecified number of legally-held firearms were removed from the Whitbourne property this afternoon.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Hughes, also of Hereford CID, said: "In addition to the man arrested in the West Midlands, the three other people - two men and a woman - arrested as part of our investigation remain in custody at the present time and are being interviewed by detectives.

"Reassurance patrols will continue in Whitbourne and Leigh Sinton over the weekend and officers will be happy to discuss any concerns that people may have.

"This is a complex investigation and we are continuing to look at a number of possible lines of inquiry."