VIDEO: Plymouth man admits running cannabis factory 'worth £500k a year'
A DRUG grower has admitted operating a cannabis factory – which could have generated nearly half a million pounds a year.
Leighton Bird appeared before Plymouth Magistrates yesterday to admit his role in the operation, based at a light industrial unit in Ford.
The 33-year-old pleaded guilty to two counts of producing the Class B drug between April 1 and May 25 last year.
Bird, of Edith Avenue, was arrested in May last year after officers sniffed out the highly sophisticated cannabis factory at the junction of Crantock Terrace and Melville Terrace Lane in Ford.
The Herald was granted access to the building at the time – and the set-up included timer-operated lighting, heating and air conditioning, as well as a fully automated watering system.
Prosecutor Eoin McCarthy told magistrates Bird had been "significantly" involved in producing the cannabis.
He said officers found 443 plants growing in nine separate tents over two floors.
A fake wall had been created on the ground floor which hid a large part of the production, he said.
The plants yielded a total weight of around 19kg, "of which half was described as skunk cannabis, a more powerful form".
The value of the skunk cannabis at "street level" was estimated to be "in excess of £106,000, while the cannabis leaf was worth a further £23,000".
Mr McCarthy said the police's drug liaison officer, Detective Constable Stuart Payne, determined the set-up could have produced three or four crops a year.
That could have seen the operation flood Plymouth's streets with around £500,000 worth of the drug in a year.
Det Con Payne told The Herald at the time of the discovery: "There would have been the potential to produce nearly half a million pounds worth of cannabis per year.
"There has been a large outlay in terms of rent of the property, electricity, the tents and lights, air conditioning, timers, piping, automated watering systems. In total the outlay could come to more than £10,000.
"It's one of the most professional set-ups I've seen."
Mr McCarthy told magistrates Bird was of previous good character, but the case was so serious sentencing could only be carried out by a judge at crown court.
Bird was granted unconditional bail and the case was committed to Plymouth Crown Court for a March 8 hearing.