Growing underground: Huge cannabis factory found inside North Wales railway tunnels containing drugs worth 225,000
Elaborate steel gates, doors and a trapdoor concealed sophisticated drug operation hidden behind legitimate mushroom farm
Gerald Davies, Kenneth Vincent, Phillip Bigley and Christopher McIntyre jailed for their work at the operation
18:59 GMT, 3 December 2012
A mushroom farm based in disused railway tunnels was in fact a front for a sophisticated cannabis operation with a potential annual turnover of more than 2m.
Police raided the underground business after a tip-off and found a warren of industrial-sized growing rooms hidden behind fortress-like steel gates.
Today four men were jailed for their part in the operation at the disused Faenol Tunnels on the Menai Business Park at Bangor, north Wales.
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Entrance to the site: The cannabis farm was protected by two sets of steel doors and gates
Sophisticated operation: The court heard how considerable effort had been put into making the underground drug farm
In May, police officers acting on information raided the premises and found the hidden industrial sized cannabis laboratories.
Inside was a Portakabin with a concealed trap door leading down through a tunnel to five large growing rooms – one of which housed cannabis with an estimated street value of 225,000.
But the potential annual turnover was between 1.5 million and 2 million.
A judge was today given a virtual tour of the operation by video at Mold Crown Court, where the men were sentenced after earlier guilty pleas.
Retired builder and great grandfather
Gerald Davies, 63, of Craig y Don Road, Bangor, and Kenneth
John Vincent, 59, a buildings designer from York Terrace, Beaumaris,
admitted producing cannabis and conspiring to supply the class B drug.
They were each jailed for three years and four months.
Gerald Davies, left, and Kenneth Vincent, right, were each jailed for three years and four months
Phillip Bigley, left, and Christopher McIntyre, right, were each sentenced to 12 months in prison
Two other men who worked as gardeners at the tunnels were also jailed. Philip Joseph Bigley, 22, of Cottage Close in Liverpool and Christopher James McIntyre, 30, of Appleby Drive in Bootle, received 12 months each after admitting production charges.
Mr Recorder Timothy Petts, sitting at Mold Crown Court, said it was described by the police as one of the best cannabis factories ever found in North Wales in recent history.
But it was clear that others, the brains behind the elaborate venture, should be in the dock as well, he said.
Deep underground: The disused railway tunnels housed a warren of tunnels devoted to growing vast quantities of the Class B drug
Elaborate: A trapdoor in the floor of the railway tunnel led to where the cannabis production was taking place
'There should be others standing alongside you in the dock today,' he said.
accepted that Davies and Vincent had been involved in a legitimate
operation, Menai Mushrooms, at the tunnels, but they had then been
pressurised into setting up the cannabis farm.
was a facility on any view capable of producing at least 1.5 million
worth of cannabis a year,' he said. 'This was no small scale set up.'
Prosecutor Gareth Preston said that in 2009 or 2010 Gerald Davies, a local builder, met a director of the Faenol Estate when the BBC hosted an event there.
A peppercorn rent was agreed for the use of the tunnels, and Davies and Vincent set about establishing the mushroom business.
They talked to a local expert with a view to growing specialist shiitake and chestnut mushrooms, and signed him up to provide advise and to visit once a fortnight. But the court heard the mushroom expert was deterred from attending with various excuses.
It was his view that the mushroom farm could easily have been expanded to provide a potential annual yield of 145,000.
'This was no small scale set-up': Cannabis drying inside the secret drug farm in north Wales
The court heard how considerable work took place to transform the old tunnels into a sophisticated farm, with trees cleared, a road reinstated and the tunnel floors lined with 40 tonnes of aggregate.
Large steel interior and exterior doors were fitted, and an elaborate trapdoor and tunnel led from the mushroom growing area into the cannabis operation. Vincent even took photographs of the work at various stages on his iPhone, later found by police working on Operation Gumshoe.
Ventilation and electrical work were carried out, and a sub-station installed, all covered by CCTV. The electricity was by-passed at one stage.
At 7.30am on May 9 this year police entered the left-hand tunnel and became aware of the smell of cannabis.
Secret lair: This picture taken from a police video shows a Portacabin inside the cannabis farm that was discovered by officers working on Operation Gumshoe
They found the trap door and tunnel leading to the cannabis factory and Davies was arrested.
Vincent was stopped by police in a Mercedes car on the junction of the A55 and A487 at Ffordd y Parc. He had keys to the tunnel, and a journal charting the progress of the work was found.
He confirmed that there were no booby traps on site to injure officers.
The covert part of the tunnels were divided into 11 distinct areas over 70m with a staff area with microwave, television and CD player, five growing rooms, and four irrigation rooms.
There were 1,207 plants in various stages of growth with blocks capable of supporting a further 1,600 plants. The potential yields was estimated at 254,000.
'This is one of the best-designed and constructed commercial operations that North Wales Police have ever encountered.'
PROSECUTOR GARETH PRESTON
The illegal set-up was decommissioned by an expert who said the extraction system was silenced and filtered to remove the pungent smell of cannabis production.
The lighting and watering systems were all automated, and he discovered 88 lighting units, 11 fans and nine silencers.
'The officer in the case described the set up as one of the best he had encountered in 22 years of service as a drugs officer,' said Mr Preston.
'The simple fact is that this is one of the best-designed and constructed commercial operations that North Wales Police have ever encountered.'
Davies told police he had been approached to look after the place, had invested his 40,000 savings into the venture, he was retired and said he felt pressurised into taking part in the venture.
Vincent said he was a self-employed commercial building designer, but was bankrupt. He worked with Davies in the Menai Mushrooms operation and agreed he was involved in designing the operation.
McIntyre agreed that it was him photographed at the site from the CCTV, said that he worked there to pay off a 3,000 debt, and would sleep on site. It was his job to ensure water butts were full.
Bigley, who had a long standing issue with cannabis, declined to comment but his DNA was found on a cigarette butt.
The defence stressed that the mushroom operation had been a genuine business but Davies and Vincent had come under pressure by men from Liverpool who saw the tunnels as an ideal cannabis factory.
Video: Watch the virtual tour of the underground drugs operation: