Three jailed for turning nuclear bunker into 'largest cannabis factory in southern England'

Three men have been jailed in England for turning an underground nuclear bunker there designed for British Army VIPs into the "largest cannabis factory to be found in the south of England".

Martin Fillery, 46, Plamen Nguyen, 27, and Ross Winter, 31, were sentenced at Salisbury Crown Court after admitting conspiracy to produce class B drugs and abstracting electricity.

Charles Thomas, prosecuting, said the farm at the RGHQ (Regional General Headquarters) Chilmark, Wiltshire, was capable of producing £2 million worth of cannabis each year.

He said: "This case concerns what had originally been built and designed as a nuclear bunker to be used by important personnel coming from the Army headquarters in the event of a nuclear war.

"In the 1990s that building was decommissioned."

Sentencing them, Judge Keith Cutler said: "Each of you has played a part in what amounts to one of the most serious crimes that this area has seen for a long while.

"Chilmark is essentially an English village, picture book beauty. It's also the spiritual home for Wiltshire as Salisbury Cathedral is built from Chilmark stone.

"In return you in your own way have decided to use this large nuclear bunker to carry out the production on an industrial scale of cannabis."

Fillery was jailed for a total of eight years while Winter and Nguyen were each given five years in prison.

Mr Thomas explained that Fillery, who had previously written a screenplay about cannabis production, leased the remote building in 2013 and initially used it as a storage facility for his business of selling film and TV memorabilia including model Daleks and cars.

He said that police were tipped off by a delivery driver who reported a cannabis smell at the site and officers carried out three periods of CCTV surveillance before raiding the bunker in February 2017.

They found 4,425 plants at all stages of production as well as 6,500 dead used plants with a total value of £1.25 million.

Mr Thomas said that about 20kg of harvested and dried cannabis was also found with a value of about £99,000.

"That puts the enterprise in category A of the guidelines as a production of cannabis on an industrial scale," he said.

As well as the equipment used to grow the cannabis, which would have cost £140,000 to set up, the police found living accommodation including a fully stocked kitchen for four Vietnamese men who were employed as gardeners.

Police had initially considered whether modern slavery offences had been committed but they could not prove that the gardeners were being held against their will, Mr Thomas explained.

He added that three of them had since been deported and the fourth case was under appeal.

He said the electricity stolen from a nearby pylon used to power the growing lights and other equipment had an estimated maximum value of £650,000.

Photos issued by Wiltshire Police of (left to right) of Martin Fillery, Ross Winter and Plamen Nguyen.

Fillery, of Ashcott, Bridgwater, Somerset, was also sentenced for possessing criminal property after police found movie memorabilia worth £1 million at his home.

Officers also found receipts for diamonds worth £3,000 and £800 of Hugo Boss clothing at Winter's home.

Mr Thomas said that Fillery had a "leading role" in the operation which is believed to have begun in May 2014 while Winter, of Maytree Avenue, Bristol, provided transport and Nguyen, of Horfield, Bristol, was a liaison for the gardeners.

Tana Adkin QC, defending Fillery, who has no previous convictions, said he was not in charge of the operation but had leased the bunker and had a "leading role" in the operation.

She said: "He is a man who previously was involved in dealing with television and movie memorabilia.

"He had a great interest in literature and movies and TV of all description, he had been interviewed on the television previously and had a great deal of knowledge and expertise in that field and began to deal in that field of memorabilia using various online websites and making something of a living."

She said he became involved in the production of cannabis after researching a screenplay he was writing on the subject.

Edward Hetherington, defending Winter, who has a previous conviction for producing cannabis, said his role had been as a driver who was paid for his services.

He said that Winter, a motor mechanic, had become a father for the first time while in custody awaiting sentence and added: "The sense of regret he feels at being absent from her birth is impossible to express."

Daniel Darnborough, representing Bulgarian-national Nguyen, who has a 14-month-old daughter, said he is "genuinely remorseful" and added: "He is a man who has led a law-abiding life and finds himself missing out on raising his child."

Speaking after the hearing, Detective Inspector Simon Pope, of Wiltshire Police, said: "I am very pleased with the sentences handed out today.

"It sends a clear message to the public that the production of cannabis is an incredibly serious offence and it's been acknowledged the three defendants played a significant role within this criminal conspiracy.

"The operation is one of the largest that Wiltshire Police have come across. This was a significant undertaking for our force and I am glad that all the hard work by all those involved has contributed to taking a large quantity of harmful drugs off our streets."

The bunker at RGHQ Chilmark was constructed in the 1980s to house local government in the event of a nuclear attack during the height of the Cold War.

Its nuclear blast doors make the site almost impenetrable.

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