Increasing numbers of people are setting up cannabis factories and tampering with gas or electricity meters to avoid paying the high heating bills required to cultivate plants, it was claimed today.
British Gas has uncovered what it believes are cannabis growing enterprises in Derby, Dagenham, Bristol and Manchester while investigating unusually high consumption of energy.
A couple from Kent were convicted last month of drugs offences after British Gas investigators found a cannabis growing operation at a house in Sidcup.
The company has issued a fresh warning about the dangers of “stealing” gas and electricity.
The UK Revenue Protection Association estimates about £340 million worth of gas and electricity is “stolen” from UK energy companies every year.
Interfering with a meter is the most common method used but other examples include tapping into someone else’s supply or even connecting to the electricity from street lights.
Harry Metcalfe, general manager of the investigating unit at British Gas, confirmed the apparent increase in cannabis factories.
“We don’t seem to have come across them in the distant past – it is a new phenomenon for us,” he said.
“It probably takes a lot of energy to keep the place hot enough for the cannabis plants to grow well.”
He added that gas and electricity theft was now widespread.
“It is happening in every town in this country.
“It could be people who are hard-up but at the other end of the scale we have the rich with their six-bedroom country houses and huge swimming pools – and a huge heating bill to go with it.”
British Gas warns tampering with a meter is dangerous and could lead to electrocution, a fire or even an explosion.
Date: 4 July 2004