Loan sharks coerce tenants who can’t repay debt into creating drug farms
Tenants forced to grow cannabis
Loan sharks are forcing social housing tenants to convert rooms into cannabis farms when they are unable to make repayments.
The tactic, employed by unscrupulous lenders, was uncovered by a former police officer of 31 years’ experience who is now working for 3,500-home South Liverpool Housing Group.
Ian Roche, co-ordinator of SLHG’s witness and victim encouragement and support scheme, said the practice was a new phenomenon. ‘I have not heard of it before - it has only come up in recent months.’
Tenants targeted in a handful of cases included those who borrow money to pay off rent arrears but do not have access to conventional financial products.
‘It is quite easy to meet a loan shark and there is never any contract,’ Mr Roche added.
‘As part of repaying their debt, if they [tenants] can’t pay cash up front they are being told “if you can’t give us the money you will grow cannabis for us”.
‘Their [the loan sharks’] people will come in and convert a room into a cannabis farm.’
A spokesperson for the Birmingham-based Illegal Money Lending Team, which investigates unscrupulous lenders, said it was helping to prosecute a case where a loan shark had coerced a borrower into creating a drugs farm.
Peter Jackson, managing director of the Social Landlords’ Crime and Nuisance Group, said police around the country were reporting that tenants were being targeted to cultivate cannabis farms but that he was unaware of any link with illegal lenders.
‘There is a view that the proliferation is largely as result of customs being more efficient in stopping the cannabis coming into the country from abroad.’
Since 2009 several people have been jailed for periods of up to eight years for running cannabis farms in a bid to pay off debts.
Councils including Oldham, Watford, Derbyshire and Tyneside have reported cases.
Mr Roche said tenants could avoid facing drugs charges and tenancy action by seeking help from their landlord. ‘If they [tenants], are found with cannabis farms they are at risk of facing tenancy action. People don’t realise there is help available.’