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Letting agents ran £2m drugs factory in properties they managed

A lettings agency in south London has been found to be the front for a cannabis growing operation, with drugs grown in properties managed by the agent.

Two men who ran Home To Home in Forest Hill have been jailed for a total of eight years at Woolwich Crown Court. 

Aidan Lynch, 51, was sentenced to five years in prison on one count of conspiracy to produce cannabis and six counts of permitting a premises to be used as a cannabis factory. Jason Smart, 47, was sentenced to three years on one count of conspiracy to produce cannabis and four counts of permitting premises to be used as a cannabis factory. 

An accomplice, Patrick McArdle, 37, was jailed for five years and six months after he was found guilty alongside Lynch and Smart of conspiracy to produce cannabis and for the production of cannabis in relation to another unconnected incident in Essex. 

It was back in February 2013 when officers from Lewisham's Proactive Unit executed a drugs warrant at a basement premises below shops on Crystal Palace Parade, SE19.

The address had previously been used as a bar but upon entry officers found that it was being used as a cannabis factory. The factory consisted of four low, interlinked tunnels each housing approximately 125 cannabis plants which were lit with a sophisticated timed lighting system. The cannabis plants were estimated to have a street value of £497,000.

The premises was also found to be abstracting electricity with a complex heating, lighting and ventilation system installed, bypassing the electricity meter at the address and all controlled via a commercial grade fuse box. 

Lynch and Smart later arrived at the property whilst officers were still there. They claimed to be letting agents for the property and claimed the tenant was an unidentified man they met in a pub who had paid £300 in cash. 

Due to the explanation the pair provided they were arrested for conspiracy to supply cannabis.

Following the arrests a search was carried out at the offices of Home to Home estate agents along with a search of the homes of Lynch and Smart.

About £60,000 was found at Lynch’s home address. Lynch later tried to fool police with a fake tenancy agreement for the premises.

An investigation was carried out into all properties owned and managed by Home to Home agents in September 2013 which led to another cannabis factory being discovered at a property in September 2013. Another tenancy agreement was found in McArdle's bag, produced by to Home to Home estate agents dated August 2013.

During the course of the investigation it was discovered that there were at least seven properties that had been managed by Lynch at Home to Home letting agents that had been used as cannabis factories, which together had the potential to produce an annual revenue of more than £2m. 

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