Residents of an Andover suburb found themselves at the middle of a £250,000 drugs bust as police raided a property on King George Road on February 26.

Once officers had left, residents settled back into their routines, only to find police raiding two more properties on March 1, this time on Silver Birch Road and May Tree Road.

Two men were arrested following the raids, with hundreds of thousands of pounds of cannabis seized from three farms located in the area’s houses. But for residents, the very public raids were the first they knew about the drugs being grown on their street.

“On the Friday, we were going out just as police were getting out of their cars,” said Yvonne. “Then on Monday, I was putting bulbs in my garden and all I could hear were police arriving; they were running around trying to catch them.”

While cannabis farms have previously been focused primarily in large buildings, they are increasingly being placed in converted houses, with insurance broker Howden finding that 94 per cent of cannabis farms are located in such properties, many of which are rented.

They do this by tricking innocent landlords, often by using fake documents. Paul Shamplina, founder of Landlord Action, said: “Unfortunately, criminals are very good at coming up with false papers, so you need to make sure the referencing is really thorough. Bank statements, driving licences and utility bills all need to match up, too.”

After securing a property from an innocent landlord, criminals then convert the properties into drugs farms, which can involve remodelling of the house to install equipment and re-wiring to power the kit required to grow cannabis. Externally, changes are harder to spot, with constantly drawn curtains, high levels of condensation and excessive heat being signs a property could be a cannabis farm.

However, these changes aren’t certain signs, as Yvonne noted.

“They say to look out for condensation, but windows steam up all the time,” the 79-year-old said. “You just don’t know what’s going on indoors.”

Another sign of cannabis farms is the occupants keeping unsociable hours, and having large numbers of people visiting and leaving a property. On Silver Birch Road, Yvonne said 11 people were found inside the house, and two in an external shed.

In some instances, to cut down on visits to the house, farms can be staffed by trafficked individuals smuggled into the country.

Hampshire Safeguarding Adults Board, which works to protect vulnerable people, said it could not comment on the exact circumstances of this case due to the ongoing police investigation, but said it was committed to helping those in need.

They said: “We work with our partners across Hampshire, including via the county’s Modern Day Slavery Partnership which is committed to preventing slavery, human trafficking and illegal exploitation, to ensure that people who are known to be vulnerable, for whatever reason, can be protected and safeguarded - and where there is a risk of harm, appropriate action is taken.”

While plenty of action has been taken against illegal cannabis production in the UK, it is an increasing issue, with more cannabis than ever before being used by the UK public, with a report from 2018 saying that around 7.2 per cent of the population had used it in the previous year, the highest in nine years.

Police have also seized more cannabis plants as they raid more properties, with an increase of over 40,000 plants confiscated between 2018 and 2019.

This also bears out on the streets of Andover, with Yvonne saying: “Over the years, we’ve had a few raids but nothing on the scale it is now,” she said.

As a result of the scale of cannabis production and changes in social attitudes, there have been calls in the UK to legalise the drug, with cannabis already being legal in a number of countries and US states. Numerous petitions have been submitted to Parliament, but none have been accepted.

Martin Powell, the head of partnerships at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which campaigns for drugs law in the UK, said: “Police are in an impossible position - they are required to intervene especially where there is clear evidence that major crimes are about to be committed. But when they do act, they often exacerbate the situation. This is not their fault.

“Responsibility for our enforcement led approach lies with successive governments refusing to bite the bullet, and deliver the comprehensive reforms needed. Only reducing demand for illegal drugs will squeeze organised crime group involvement down to a fraction of the market, and this has to be done in three ways together - none of which alone will suffice.”

He called for drugs to be legally regulated to remove the criminal market, as well as funding treatment for addicts and providing support to tackle the reasons they are using drugs.

However, the Home Office said it had “no intention” of changing the classification of cannabis.

A spokesperson said: “There is strong scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can harm people's mental and physical health and can damage communities. The Government is clear - we must prevent drug use in our communities and help those dependent on drugs to recover, while ensuring our drugs laws are enforced.”

“The Government has no intention of reviewing the classification of cannabis and it will remain a class B drug.”