Inside UK’s brutal cannabis trade built on slavery that killed 39 migrants

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Cannabis users in Britain are funding modern day slavery on these shores as well as the vile people trafficking industry that killed 39 Vietnamese migrants in Essex.

An undercover Mirror investigation discovered huge profits are being made by cannabis farmers fuelling Britain’s home-grown drug problem.

A Vietnamese drugs gang boss told a reporter he could make £2,000 a week from just one farm hidden in an ordinary house on a residential street.

One in 13 UK adults – and more than one in six people aged 16-24 – consumed cannabis in 2019 and almost all of them smoked marijuana produced here.

Much is grown by Vietnamese gangs who imprison illegal migrants in houses who then work round the clock for little or nothing to pay debts to traffickers.

Four gang members responsible for the Vietnamese found dead in a lorry in 2019 were jailed on Friday to a total of 78 years.

An alleged accomplice, Ngo Sy Tai, claiming to be 17 and accused of running a safe house in Brussels where 10 of the victims spent their last night alive, is facing extradition to Belgium.

He was found at a property in Redditch, Worcs, containing cannabis plants.

Today we can reveal the links between the smugglers’ barbaric crimes and ­Britain’s £2.6billion cannabis industry.

A 15-year-old boy who died in the lorry had said he intended to work at an illegal cannabis farm once he got here.

That is certainly not true of all the victims. But of the 18,000 Vietnamese people smuggled into Europe each year, far too many end up as modern slaves on these cannabis farms, based in warehouses, barns or even suburban houses.

One gang boss Giang told our undercover reporter it costs £25,000 to set up a cannabis farm but he makes that back after three months with the first harvest.

As long as the house is undetected he can make tens of thousands of pounds by harvesting the drug every month.

Giang told our reporter, who was posing as a Chinese criminal interested in investing in his “business”, he needed more properties to expand.

When we met him in an Asian ­restaurant in West London before lockdown, he said: “Do you want to buy or do you want to invest for profit? You want to buy smoke? You need house, property.

“Do you have property? Near London it’s OK, one hour, one-and-a-half hour, two hour, 30 minutes from London. Wherever, it doesn’t matter.”

He said 10% of profit would go to an “English guy” who supplied food and essentials to the house while the Vietnamese workers were caged inside. This makes it harder for neighbours to detect anything illegal taking place.

Giang said: “30% for the worker, 10% for English guy to bring everything in.”

Our reporter asked about the remaining 60%. Giang replied: “For you and me or something… half half.”

But experts told us it was extremely unlikely “farmers” would earn the same as bosses and Giang was probably lying and planning to take the lion’s share of the profits.

He said: “You pay for rent I pay for equipment. If you pay 15 grand, I pay 15 grand. If you pay 16 grand, I pay 16 grand.”

Giang said the equipment used for growing cannabis cost “about 10 or 12 grand” per property.

Asked how long it would take to recoup the £25,000 invested in a cannabis farm, he said: “Three months, the first one is three months.

“I don’t do guarantees. It’s growing man. But three months that’s when we take it back.

“After that four or five weeks, something like that, depending on how big the house is. If you warehouse you get money every two weeks, three weeks.”

Asked about water and electricity costs, Giang said: “I pay for that. It’s not much. £200, £100 a month. We steal electric I told you.”

Giang revealed that fake rental agreements would be drawn up.

He said: “You give the property to some-one else. Not your name. You give it to someone and have fake paper, ok?”

We were introduced to Giang by another Vietnamese cannabis farmer Bao, living illegally in Oslo, Norway. Neither are their real names.

Bao told our undercover reporter: “I believe he [Giang] has over 20 people working for him. All from Vietnam. They went to Europe first, then UK. In truck. Then they find him.”

He said that the Vietnamese in their home towns find out about the work through word of mouth.

Bao explained that male migrants are exploited in the cannabis industry because the work is heavy and hard.

Leah Davison, of Anti-Slavery ­International, said: “People who buy cannabis in the UK are contributing to a system that depends on modern slavery to make profits
for wealthy criminals.

“Many people involved have been trafficked here on promises of decent work, and find ­themselves exploited mercilessly on cannabis farms.

“Sadly, while demand for illegal drugs persists, so will the exploitation of those involved in producing them.”

She added that “criminalising” the victims “plays right into the hands of their exploiters” and called on the ­Government to do more and “create safe routes for migration”.