Cannabis farms' £200m stolen electricity cost 'staggering'
Cannabis farmers steal about £200m worth of electricity across the UK every year to grow their illegal crops, according to new figures.
Crime expert Phil Butler, an academic and former detective inspector, said the "staggering" amount was enough to power every Newcastle home for a year.
He said the farms' use of electricity and water made them "death traps".
A two-day conference in Newcastle will investigate possible solutions that would help to prevent farms being made.'Industrial scale'
Mr Butler, co-director of Newcastle University's Centre for Cybercrime and Computer Security, will join forces with other organisations to investigate how new technology can be used to crack down on the criminals.
End Quote Phil Butler
The electricity costs associated with even a small-scale farm are astronomical”
He said: "The cultivation of cannabis is happening on an industrial scale but at the moment the police are still very much reliant on intelligence and tip-offs.
"What we are trying to do is develop technologies that will enable us to take a more proactive approach in the fight against cannabis cultivation."
Growing cannabis indoors without soil under lights produces more potent strains but cultivation with lamps requires a lot of energy.
"The electricity costs associated with even a small-scale farm are astronomical," said Mr Butler, formerly with Northumbria Police.
"To get around this, the individuals responsible find ways of siphoning off the electricity from the main source - often this literally means digging down underground outside the premises and hooking into the main supply."'Lethal combination'
Mr Butler said the financial sums were "staggering" but added: "It's about more than money.
"These farms are essentially death traps. In one small space such as a loft or a garage you have all this electricity and gallons of water which is a lethal combination."
The problem is being discussed at a two-day conference in Newcastle set to be attended by people from the fire service, the Association of Chief Police Officers, energy companies and the Home Office.
Solutions include sophisticated meters which could detect spikes where unexpectedly high levels of electricity were being withdrawn from the grid.
Experts will also attend from Holland, where scratch and sniff cards are used to educate the public about the distinctive smell associated with a cannabis farm.
The conference follows the Acpo announcement that more than 20 cannabis farms were found by police every day, with 1.1 million plants worth more than £207m discovered in the past two years.