Jailed: Trio behind Britain's biggest cannabis empire had base in …

Three drug lords who used a premises in Telford as part of the UK’s biggest known cannabis empire – netting them 200 million – have been jailed for over 25 years.

Nirmal Saund, 51, posed as a respected businessman and came up with elaborate stories to lease 19 industrial premises in 13 different locations across the UK. The cannabis farm empire included an isolated business premises off Granville Road in Telford, set behind imposing iron fencing and covert CCTV cameras, where 1,500 cannabis plants were recovered. There was also a 2,200-plant set-up in Bromyard Business Park, Herefordshire, where it s estimated the gang made 4 million a year.

Along with his nephew Darryl Saund, 31, and Vietnamese international Cuong Pham, 29, he then grew and harvested cannabis plants in the rented buildings. A court heard the gang operated out of a company called The Cayman Group as a group of property developers and fitted the premises with sophisticated hydroponics. Together they ran a successful multi-million pound drug dealing empire and splashed their profits on a luxury lifestyle of plush homes and fast cars.

Cannabis found in the Telford unitCannabis found in the Telford unit

But they were busted when police conducted a major investigation into the Saund family following cannabis factory finds across the Midlands.

Officers then found almost 12,000 plants worth 4.75 million when they raided other addresses across the country in June last year. Police also found 37,500 in Scottish bank notes and computers with information relating to drugs at Nirmal’s home in Walsall. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) believe the gang netted an estimated 50 million a year from their criminal enterprise over a four-year period.

Nirmal pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce a controlled drug in October last year but Darryl and Pham were convicted of the same offence last week after a trial at Stafford Crown Court.

Today the trio were jailed for a total of 25-and-a-half years at Birmingham Crown Court. Nirmal was jailed for 10 years and six months, while Darryl, of Shirley, West Midlands, got nine years. Vietnamese national Pham, of Handsworth, Birmingham, who was said to have had an operational position, was jailed for six years.

The court heard the gang used 19 premises in Telford, Birmingham, Daventry, Higham Ferrers, Loughborough, Leicester, Lutterworth, Mansfield, , Sheffield, Doncaster, Newport, North Walsham and Nuneaton. They then recruited ‘growers’ from the Vietnamese community – giving them crash courses in drug cultivation – to act as gardeners at the factories. The gang were caught when detectives ran surveillance operations on some sites and uncovered aliases used by the drug barons who used fake passports and utility bills.

Officers also uncovered bank accounts used to stash drugs cash having followed Vietnamese staff on bank runs. They were arrested after police executed warrants on June 4 at the Saunds’ home addresses and their ‘business’ premises in Handsworth, Birmingham. Police said officers arriving at Nirmal’s 500,000 home were greeted with a large, gated detached house with a row of luxury cars on the driveway.

Prosecutor Michael Burrows QC told the court Nirmal came up with “convincing and plausible” stories about how he was estranged from his wife and frozen out of the family business. Mark Friend, defending Nirmal, said: “Any assessment that he was fully responsible for the organisation and orchestration of such a significant conspiracy is misplaced.” Alwyn Jones, defending Darryl, said the nephew helped organise the leasing as part of a more administrative role.

He added: “Darryl Saund was not the prime mover or instigator. He was operating at a completely different level to his uncle.” After the hearing, Detective Sergeant Jamie Mason, from West Midlands Police, said: “They based their operation behind what appeared to be a legitimate business and posed as credible businessmen, acting with confidence and professionalism when meeting the many letting agents they managed to hoodwink.

“They cloned several alter egos and invented fictitious businesses which they registered at Company s House to reinforce their appearance as genuine business clients. “They splashed their fortune on a luxury cars, expensive homes and a high-end lifestyle. “This lifestyle was, unsurprisingly, not reflected in their declared income to the Inland Revenue.

“It s satisfying to have brought these men to justice and their living conditions over the next few years is going to be very different from that they ve become accustomed.” Warren Stanier, senior prosecutor from West Midlands CPS, added: “This was organised criminal activity on an industrial scale run like a business by Nirmal Saund, his nephew Darryl Saund and their associate Cuong Pham. “They registered multiple businesses in order to lease commercial premises around the country which they then used to grow cannabis plants.

“It was a multi-million pound enterprise, which involved significant outlay in setting up numerous cannabis factories and generated enormous returns.

“We are now working with the police to trace and recover the proceeds of their crimes.”

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Jailed: Trio behind Britain's biggest cannabis empire had base in …

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