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Drones and Drugs – a not so harmless flight of fancy

Well, the saying goes “what goes around, comes around” – so if thieves get stolen from, is it cosmic karma? It appears that criminals in Shropshire have reportedly begun to use unmanned drones fitted with heat-seeking cameras to steal from and extort illegal cannabis farms. This begs the next question – are the cannabis farmers going to report the crime? Apparently, and unsurprisingly, the answer is no!

There appears to have been a huge rise in the number of hidden cannabis farms across the Halesown, Cradley Heath and Oldbury areas – towns which are on the outskirts of rural Shropshire and some seven miles from the centre of Birmingham. These farms require hydroponic lights for the marijuana plants to grow, and the huge amounts of heat which these lights produce make them easily identifiable for the would-be criminals who know what they are looking for!

One such man told a local paper than after finding a property containing a cannabis farm, he and his crew would get together to either burgle or ‘tax’ the victim. He went on to say that “They are fair game, it’s not like I’m using my drone to see if people have nice televisions. I am after drugs to steal and sell, if you break the law then you enter me and my drone’s world. Half the time we don’t even need violence to get the crop. Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing are not gangsters!” The man went to add that he had started out operating in the more built-up areas of Handsworth where “you never who you are messing with” but came into the leafier suburbs because it is “safer and easier to fly”.

Tom Watson, the local MP for West Bromwich East and Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drones told the newspaper that the story indicated that the proliferation of drone technology can be used for good and bad, and commented that it is not surprising that enterprising criminals would want to get the upper hand in the criminal underworld by the use of drones and that these machines will have an impact on our laws and regulations for years to come.

In 2012 the Association of Chief Police Officers reported that 21 cannabis farms were found everyday by police in Britain – and that that number has doubled since 2008. It said the UK is at “significant risk” from criminal gangs who cultivate cannabis on a commercial scale, and there was also growing evidence of the “taxing” and stealing of crops as well as the use of “debt bondage” to control cultivators.

It all sounds rather far-fetched – but unfortunately it is all true. The use of drones sounds like something out of a sci-fi story and the whole drug cultivation scenario is just too huge to imagine – especially when combined with the apparent gang-land culture: as ever all crimes which are drug related need stamping out. So next time you see a drone hovering over farm land or open spaces, it may be worth taking a note and reporting this just in case the reason for it being there is not so innocent.

From legal through to insurance implications, the flying of drones is still somewhat of a grey area. So if you are thinking of getting one of these gadgets, make sure you stay within the law – and that includes any insurance implications, so check it out before you go out about hovering over other people’s land and property.

Contact Westhill Insurance Services, today.

Posted on 13th June, 2014