FIFTEEN people were arrested and cannabis plants with a potential street value of Â£1.5m were seized during a five-day operation to detect and deter the activities of foreign criminals operating in Essex.
Two Albanian men were arrested and charged after being found with the crop inside an industrial unit at Waltham Abbey on Tuesday October 21.
Officers seized more than 1,700 mature cannabis plants and 2,000 seedlings when they executed a search warrant at the unit off Fleming Road. An extensive range of production equipment was also seized.
The two men found at the site were charged with producing cannabis and went to court on Wednesday. They were remanded in custody while extensive enquiries continue.
The cannabis discovery was the highlight of Essex Police’s contribution to Operation Trivium, a national initiative targeting foreign criminals and organised crime gangs.
Investigations have also been carried out to check vehicle and passenger arrivals and departures at Harwich port and other seaports and also at Stansted Airport. Road policing operations have targeted foreign-registered vehicles and a special team of officers has daily executed search warrants at locations or businesses where foreign-based crime was suspected.
Local officers were joined by detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, roads policing, and specialist officers from the Operational Support Group for the week of action.
A Vietnamese woman and two Vietnamese boys aged 16 and 17, were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences when police executed warrants at addresses in Colchester on Monday October 21. A teenage boy from Vietnam was arrested when a search warrant was executed at an address in Harwich on the same day.
On Wednesday October 22 Essex police officers assisted officers from Trading Standards when five search warrants were executed in Colchester in connection with the suspected distribution of illegal cigarettes. Two commercial premises and three private address were searched. Trading Standards officers seized 12,000 cigarettes at one location and enquiries are continuing. An Iranian man was arrested on suspicion of trademark offences.
A Polish man was arrested at Clacton on suspicion of taking a vehicle without consent and driving while disqualified. A Polish man and another man were arrested on suspicion of fraud during a roadside stop check near Stansted airport.
Two men and a woman, all from Albania, were arrested on suspicion of being illegal immigrants after they were seen running away from Purfleet dock.
A Romanian man was arrested on suspicion of theft during a roadside check at Basildon and a Lebanese man was arrested at Grays on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to false driving documents.
Over the course of five days a total 803 vehicles were stopped and checked, of which 273 were being driven by foreign nationals. Sixteen foreign drivers had their vehicles seized for insurance and driving licence offences and 13 other foreign drivers received fixed penalty notices for other driving-related offences.
Chief Insp Jon Hayter said: "Operatium Trivium was carried out at the same time by all forces in the UK and was in response to an increasing number of crimes being committed by people from abroad.
"Essex has a major airport, sea ports and important road links to ferry ports in Kent and Suffolk and much of the work of Operation Trivium was related to detecting or deterring offenders coming into our county to commit their crimes or using our roads to go to other areas.
"Using ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology and intelligence-gathering methods we have been able make a significant number of arrests and have closed down a large cannabis factory.
"Operation Trivium brought together all forces during a week of action but we are constantly on the look-out for foreign criminals all-year round.”