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Following a two-year investigation into modern slavery and drug supply across the county, five men responsible have been sentenced.
Four of the five have been jailed.
It has been led by the police Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, who have been investigating organised crime groups exploiting vulnerable people by forcing them to ‘garden’ and guard cannabis grows.
Officers carried out warrants in four locations across Essex and London between November 2019 and July 2020.
They were joined by colleagues from the Operational Support Group, North Operation Raptor, and Serious and Organised Crime Unit, as well as by charity partners in Justice & Care, who provide Victim Navigators to Essex Police to safeguard victims of modern slavery.
Warrants were executed at:
• Rawreth Industrial Estate, Rayleigh, on November 29, 2019, where officers found eight industrial units containing 1015 cannabis plants in total;
• Bromfords Farm, Wickford, on May 1, 2020, where officers found 361 cannabis plants in a house;
• London Recycling factory, Barking, on July 15, 2020, where officers found 850 cannabis plants;
• Melbourne Road, Clacton, on July 15, 2020, where officers found 26 cannabis plants spread across three bedrooms in a house.
In total, over 2,000 cannabis plants were seized with an estimated value of over £2 million.
Five Vietnamese nationals who had been forced to harvest and guard the plants and were found living in appalling conditions.
Two years after the operation began, on Tuesday (November 16), five men were sentenced at Basildon Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to produce cannabis.
Four men were jailed for a combined total of 15 years and 6 months.
• James Jacobs, 39, of Stevens Close, Canvey, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment;
• Danny Hicks, 41, of St John’s Road, Clacton, sentenced to three years and eight months imprisonment;
• Gary Calder, 43, of Whernside Avenue, Canvey, sentenced to three years and six months imprisonment;
• David Hall, 37, of Caspian Walk, Newham, sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment.
A fifth man, Terrence Green, 34, of St John’s Road, Clacton, received a suspended sentence of two years and six months and was ordered to complete 100 unpaid hours of work.
The lead officer for the case, who does not wish to be named, said: “I’m extremely proud of all of the teams who have been involved in the investigation, whose hard work and dedication has helped sentence five men for their crimes and prevented a substantial quantity of cannabis from entering the illegal market.
“Not only this but we were able to safeguard five vulnerable people.
“People trapped in modern slavery have their freedoms taken from them and often have to endure terrible working and living conditions.
“Although we often associate modern slavery with international enterprises, the sad truth is that there are victims across Essex who need our support and perpetrators that need to be brought to justice.
“If you think someone is being exploited, please report it to us or ring the modern slavery helpline on 0800 012 1700.”