The number of Vietnamese immigrants coming to the Fylde coast illegally as part of an organised criminal gang of drug dealers is on the rise, police have warned today.
Prospective cannabis farmers are being recruited, lured by the potential to earn lucrative sums of money, and shipped over to the Fylde coast.
They are taught to lie about their age, claiming to be under 18 if they are caught in a bid to escape serious punishment and tying up vital police time as officers try to prove them wrong, police say.
One man, who was recently prosecuted for growing cannabis in Fleetwood, didn’t leave the flat for an entire year as he tried to avoid detection by the police.
But despite a string of successful prosecutions in recent months, detectives say they fear these illegal immigrants are being sent over as quickly as they are being locked up.
Det Con Martin Walsh, of Blackpool CID, has investigated several drugs farms being run by illegal immigrants.
He said stopping the flow of Vietnamese drug growers into the area is “a bit like pushing water uphill”.
“There’s no audit trail between them because these people are paid cash in hand,” he added.
“The money will never go through bank accounts and it’s difficult to say who they are.
“The worst thing that will happen to some of these people is they will do some time in prison and then be deported.”
But depite the difficulties in shutting down the network of organised criminals behind the influx, he said police are committed to shutting down the drugs farms wherever they pop up.
In the most recent case to go through the courts, three men were jailed for a total of almost nine years after being caught growing cannabis worth £250,000 in two flats in Fleetwood.
He said: “These three men were willingly exploited.
“They were asked in Vietnam if they were willing to come across for financial reward.
“One of them said he was earning £5,000 cash in hand per crop and he was on his fourth when we found him.
“They come here knowing full well that what they are doing is illegal.”
He welcomed the lengthy jail terms handed to all three, which ranged from 20 to 60 months, but said that alone will not stop the problem.
The gangs that send them over are training them to evade capture but even when they do get prosecuted, there are others waiting to arrive.
Det Con Walsh added: “These three created a lot of confusion by using each other’s details.
“The details they gave were all well-rehearsed in terms of what to say to us.
“One of them was wanted by Nottinghamshire Police for a similar offence but he disappeared and reappeared in Fleetwood.”
By claiming to be a juvenile, the man – believed to be in his 20s –successfully applied for bail.
“He was released into the care of the local authority and vanished,” he added. “He resurfaced some years later in Fleetwood.”
And Det Con Walsh said he believes the Vietnamese drugs gangs are a growing problem on the Fylde coast, with cannabis farms popping up in Blackpool as well.
He added: “There does seem to be an increase in Vietnamese nationals being brought to the country for the purpose of growing cannabis. I have dealt with a few now.
“You can’t really ignore the fact there’s been an increase.”
Last month, two men pleaded guilty in court to growing cannabis after police raided two Blackpool town centre properties and uncovered 400 plants.
In September, Blackpool magistrates heard a Vietnamese national had entered the country illegally before being caught growing cannabis at an address on Cunliffe Road, in the resort.
In December last year, a Vietnamese man was jailed over a haul of cannabis found in North Shore.