Drug Ring Smashed

Police today smashed an alleged professional criminal network capable of generating drugs worth more than £3 million a year as part of a day-long crackdown.

An organised crime group suspected of involvement in producing and supplying drugs, mainly cannabis, on a huge scale was identified in east Kent, officers said.

Police chiefs said the gang's ill-gotten gains gave them lavish lifestyles well beyond their means, and that today's operation had struck a blow at the top of the hierarchy.

More than 70 officers conducted a series of dawn raids at eight commercial and residential properties in Thanet, Herne Bay and Ashford.

Four people - three men aged 38, 48 and 35 and a 40-year-old woman - have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to produce controlled drugs.

At a large rural property in Hastingleigh, near Ashford, search teams found a sophisticated hydroponic cannabis factory with cannabis plants in different stages of maturity.

Kent Police said they believed the professional set-up could have been capable of generating more than #3 million a year once fully up and running.

Seven vehicles, including a luxury Aston Martin DB9 believed to be worth around £40,000, were seized, along with computers, mobile phones and around £4,000 in cash.

Chief Superintendent Mark Nottage, of Kent Police, said: ``We had identified a sophisticated organised crime group working in the east of the county who were living lavish lifestyles on the proceeds of drug crime.

``These are people concerned in the production and supply of drugs, particularly cannabis, on a massive scale. The money they made was used to fuel an extravagant way of living well beyond their normal means.''

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Fotheringham, the senior investigating officer, said: ``The positive impact an operation on this scale can have on our communities is huge and I hope it clearly demonstrates how committed we are to dealing with drug crime.''