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Huge cannabis farm 'was staffed by trafficked Vietnamese teenagers'
Three teenagers were found working in slave-like conditions at former nuclear bunker in Wiltshire, police say
The three teenagers, the youngest of whom was initially thought to be 15, and one adult in his 30s, were found working as gardeners inside the 1980s bunker after a midnight raid on Wednesday.
DI Paul Franklin from Wiltshire police said officers recognised that the four gardeners were victims, adding: “No one would do this by choice.” He described the living and working conditions in the 20-room bunker, hidden in the countryside, as “grim for anyone, let alone a 15-year-old”.
“This was slave labour. There is no natural light, no running water supplies, water had to be brought in. This is hard, manual labour – it’s not just a walk around with a watering can. I was shocked by the scale of it,” Franklin said. “There is no fresh air, just the cloying, sweet humid smell of the plants that permeates everything.”
Detectives were trying to establish whether the four men were able to come and go freely or were locked inside RGHQ Chilmark, built in 1985 to serve as the regional government headquarters in the event of a nuclear attack. The two-storey underground site is no longer owned by the Ministry of Defence, but remains intact, with protective nuclear blast doors still in place.
It was unclear whether the workers had been held there for several months, since the cannabis plants were seedlings, or if they were working in rotation with other gardeners. There were several thousand plants, approximately 200 in each of the bunker’s 20 rooms, at various different stages of growth, and police estimated the street value of the cannabis was over £1m.
Three British men were charged on Friday afternoon with conspiracy to produce cannabis, and conspiring to hold another person in slavery or servitude. The four Vietnamese men were released from custody, and were told no further action would be taken against them. An age assessment conducted while they were in the police station provisionally put the three teenagers at about 19 years old.