A strong smell of cannabis coming from a warehouse in Withycombe Raleigh prompted police to raid the premises and find a professionally-run drugs factory.

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A professionally-run cannabis factory hidden in a warehouse surrounded by homes and businesses in Withycombe has been raided by police.

The illegal factory would have remained undiscovered had neighbours not reported a strong smell of cannabis coming from the building where a marquee hire and catering business had recently set up.

Raiding the building last Friday, officers discovered drugs worth hundreds of thousands of pounds were growing in three make-shift rooms.

Police said the owners of the building, unit 1A, in Pound Lane, rented out the premises at the end of 2012 to Complete Catering and Marquees but ‘did not have a clue’ the building was used for cultivating cannabis. A mobile phone number displayed on the sign directs the caller through to Tesco voicemail.

Police said a lot of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ would have gone into setting up the cannabis factory. Officers are appealing for the public to report any information, or suspicious activity seen over recent months.

PC Glen Herbert, of East Devon Intelligence, at Exmouth Police Station, said: “It’s fairly professional how they have set it up. It’s completely hydroponic. The lighting, heating, electricity and the water is all self-contained. They have obviously spent a lot of money setting it all up.

“It was brought to our attention because of the smell, which was dependent on the wind direction.”

Sergeant Nick Southern, of the local policing support team, said the drug growers were unlikely to return to the warehouse once news of the raid broke.

He said those responsible stayed well away, employing a ‘gardener’ who visited to tend the plants.

Sgt Southern said: “They keep themselves well hidden. They pay up front and they pay cash.

“There’s a lot of money involved; we are not just talking hundreds or thousands of pounds. They plant again and again.

“We want people to tell us what they have seen. There’s obviously been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and the smell is obvious

“It’s mainly picked up by neighbours who smell something, or see unusual activity.

“Even if we don’t get anyone, I am satisfied we have stopped the grow – because there was a lot of money invested in it.”

The warehouse was previously used to hold martial arts classes. Now drug growers have created three make-shift rooms with highly-insulated walls, doors and false ceilings to ensure ideal growing conditions for a premium cannabis crop.

Vents to siphon off the strong smell from inside the building had been added to the roof.

Police were unsure how many plants had been grown, but said each was worth around £700.

One room contained more than 50 empty pots – plants worth around £35,000 - with cannabis plant debris strewn over the floor where the mature weed had been cut to sell.

The remaining two rooms contained deep rows of plants close to cultivation. Some 300 electrical transponders, worth £250 each, plus rows of specialist lighting, watering equipment, plus 10 water butts, bags of fertiliser, scores of individual pots, netting and plant accelerant were discovered inside the premises.

A whole wall had been taken over by electrical plugs, with cables trailing off into the various rooms.

In recent years properties in Madeira Villas and Victoria Road have been taken over by cannabis factories.

Sgt Southern said it was ‘rare’ for Exmouth to be targeted, adding the problem was not confined locally, but was a national concern.

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