10:11am Thursday 17th April 2014
Exclusive By Adam Smith
FLYING drones fitted with heat-seeking cameras are being used by criminals to find cannabis farms in Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury so they can steal the crops.
The explosion in the number of cannabis farms has led to countless violent robberies as the intruders know the victim will not call the police.
However, the use of drones in discovering cannabis farms in residential homes is the first instance of cheaper drones being used in this way.
One tech-savvy criminal said: "I bought my first drone for a few hundred quid and learnt how to fly it over wasteland and fitted a wifi camera to it so I could look into people's windows.
"However, I noticed police helicopters used thermal imaging cameras to find cannabis farms because of the heat the hydroponic lights give off so I bought a second hand heat-seeking camera online and hooked it up to my Ipad."
After finding a property containing a cannabis farm the criminal and "his crew" either burgle or blatantly "tax" the victim.
The 33-year-old said: "Half the time we don’t even need to use violence to get the crop. Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing it are not gangsters, especially in places like Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury.
"We started in Handsworth but you never know who your messing with there so I bring my drone up these sides now as it is safer and less built up so easier to fly."
The unrepentant criminal added: "They are fair game, it is not like I'm using my drone to see if people have nice televisions I am just after drugs to steal and sell, if you break the law then you enter me and my drone's world."
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, were first used by the military but simpler remote control models are now on sale for under £300 and have a flying time of 30 minutes.
Civilian companies are now using drones for various projects and both fire services and police forces are exploring their use.
Sandwell MP Tom Watson is the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones.
He said: "This is remarkable story shows the proliferation of drone technology which can be used for both good and bad.
"It is no surprise enterprising criminals would want to get the upper hand in the criminal underworld by using drones.
He added: "As a society we will be dealing with the impact of drones on our laws and regulations for years to come."
"And it is time the Government started listening about privacy concerns about the misuse of drones."
The Association of Chief Police Officers latest report on commercial cannabis cultivation found the number farms had doubled in two years and police were discovering over 21 a day in the UK.
The report said: "There has been an increase in robberies, burglaries and violence including the use of firearms linked to cannabis farms.
"And there is evidence of taxing (stealing) of crops and debt bondage being used to control local individuals."
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