The site was once awarded £3m in Welsh Government funding
Ten men who turned a travellers camp into a giant cannabis farm of more than 450 plants worth up to £340,000 a year have been sentenced.
The 120-person camp, in Merthyr Tydfil , had received £3m of Welsh Government grant funding for new facilities including a community hall, toilet blocks, and landscaping.
But 12 of the 24 caravans at Glynmill Gypsy and Traveller Site were used for a sophisticated cannabis operation estimated to be worth as much as £340,000 annually.
Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard the men who set up the giant plantation although all claimed it was for their personal use.
Police recovered 453 plants, including a mother plant from which all other plants were grown, when they raided the site.
Armed officers including the National Crime Agency mounted Operation Red Lava and riot police and horses were used in the swoop to uncover the cannabis growing in caravans.
A court heard a police swoop with more than 100 officers and 30 vehicles discovered the camp was home to a “highly lucrative” cannabis farm.
The 10 defendants denied it was part of a commercial “farm” enterprise to sell cannabis – and instead claimed the produce was for their own personal use.
Prosecutor Ieuan Morris: “This was an organised group involved in the production of cannabis worth between £90,000 and £340,000.
“In the raid on the three-acre site in February last year they discovered cannabis plants being grown with sophisticated hydroponic systems.
“Cannabis plants of various stages of growth were recovered – as was the paraphernalia associated with large-scale production.
“They entered their pleas on the basis that they were individually involved for their own purpose and not aware of any other goings on on the site.
“There is an element of commercial supply, not just for personal use.
“The overall potential worth was between £90,000 and £340,000 and 453 cannabis plants were recovered.”
Andrew Jakes, 37, Adam Jones, 24, Barry Jones, 34, Brinnie Mochan, 19, Peter Gilheaney, 18, Steven Francis Gilheaney, 34, Martin Gilheaney, 27, and Peter Patrick Gilheaney, 37, all from the Glynmill camp, admitted conspiracy to produce cannabis and cannabis production.
Steven Gilheaney was sentenced to six months and Martin and Peter Gilheaney to eight months.
Judge Richard Twomlow said: “It may be that the whole truth regarding the growing of this cannabis on the site will never truly be known.
“Your offending is so serious that only a prison sentence can be justified.”
The remaining five were given sentences of between and eight months suspended for a year.
Another two – Edward Probert, 28, of Pontypool, and William Williams, 20, of Merthyr Tydfil – also pleaded guilty to the same charges.
Probert received a conditional discharge and Williams was given a five-month sentence in a youth rehabilitation institution, both suspended for 12 months.
Another four living at the site were cleared when their trial collapsed because the businessman who owns the camp refused to give evidence in court.
Owner Craig William Bennett was awarded the £3m from the Welsh Government in three grants between 2011 and 2014 to improve the camp with three toilets blocks, a community hall, and a school.
Bennett was due to be a key witness in the trial but failed to appear at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court and wrote to the prosecution saying he was not going to come.
The father-of-four refused to take the stand in court after being called as a witness but he was then prosecuted for contempt of court after the trial collapsed.
He was fined £500 for contempt of court by the judge.
Story by: Gfarms.news