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Surge in electricity theft for drug cultivation

Police investigations into electricity theft are 13% higher this year than in 2018, according to Direct Line for Business.

The insurance company analysed the theft of electricity in England and Wales in 2019. There are expected to be 2,200 cases compared to 1,950 last year – a rise of 250 cases.

Those tampering with energy meters (so it doesn’t accurately record the energy used) risk electrocution, severe burns and a greater danger of fire in a property as exposed wires and connections can easily become superheated.

In almost a quarter (23%) of cases, police suspected electricity was being stolen for the cultivation of illegal drugs. In fact, there have been over 5,200 cases investigating electricity theft since the start of 2017 – an average of seven cases opened every day.

People can receive a significant prison term for electricity theft alone (a starting point of 12 weeks’ custody), while those found guilty of running a cannabis operation can expect to be jailed for between four and eight years.

Interestingly, just three police forces across England and Wales account for 32% of all investigations into the theft of electricity, Greater Manchester Police handled 14% of all electricity theft investigations, followed by West Yorkshire Police (12%) and Merseyside Police (7%).

Further research by Direct Line showed the scale of illegal drug cultivation in the UK. In the financial year 2017/18 police seized an average of 964 cannabis plants every single day, with a total of 352,000 plants confiscated. This represented nearly two thirds (72%) of all drug seizures in England and Wales last year, with a total of 98,000 seizures across all police forces.

The Metropolitan Police alone carried out 25,880 seizures related to cannabis, accounting for 26% of the England and Wales total. West Yorkshire police (3,649), West Midlands Police (3,605) and Sussex Police (3,599) also made significant seizures.

Sarah Larkin, landlord product manager at Direct Line for Business, comments: “Illegal cannabis farms pose a huge threat to the health and security of neighbourhoods across the country and are a major concern for landlords.”

“Landlords can unwittingly become victim of unscrupulous drug dealers who abuse their properties and transform them into cannabis factories.  Not only can these landlords find themselves involved in a police investigation, but they often have to contend with thousands of pounds worth of damage caused to their properties.”

Additionally, insurance claims from landlords whose properties have been converted into illegal cannabis farms account for a third of the total value of all malicious damage claims received. One in every nine landlord claims related to malicious damage because a tenant had been using a landlord’s property for the illegal cultivation of cannabis.

The manufacture of cannabis can result in huge damage to a property, resulting from mould and water leakage from hydroponics and irrigation systems used. Claims also show criminals tampering with electricity supplies in a property, knocking through walls for ventilation and causing damage by installing fortifications to stop easy access.

Signs a property may be being used as a cannabis farm, according to Direct Line for Business are:

  • The tenant wishes to pay cash upfront for the lease and discourages any inspections
  • Windows and vents are sealed or blocked off to prevent the smell of cannabis escaping
  • Tampering with the electricity meter or wiring
  • Mould, condensation and excess humidity in a property
  • Fertiliser and an excess of gardening equipment for the size of the property’s garden
  • Fortification of the building, such as an increased number of locks or window bars installed
  • Noise and light pollution from ventilation fans and lamps
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