BRADFORD'S top judge today gave a stark warning of the dangers skunk cannabis farms pose to law and order when he jailed a man who made six houses in one street available to Albanian criminals to cultivate the drug.

The city’s Recorder, Judge Richard Mansell QC, locked Nicky Lancaster up for four years for playing ‘a crucial role’ in the operation run by the organised gang.

Lancaster, 32, of Idle Road, Five Lane Ends, Bradford, pleaded guilty to production of cannabis and possession of criminal property.

Prosecutor Gerald Hendron said that just after 5am on December 12 last year the police got a 999 call from a member of the public reporting a disturbance in Rylstone Gardens, Undercliffe, Bradford.

People were screaming and running around with bats, it was reported.

When the police arrived there was an Audi in the middle of the road, a VW Caddy van parked alongside it and a strong smell of cannabis.

Lancaster was in the street bleeding profusely from his left leg. He had three separate stab or slash wounds, two to his leg and one to his elbow. There was also a badly injured young man in the back of the van.

There were cannabis grows at six house in the street that were owned or rented out by Lancaster.  The total street value of the crops was £843,000 and the estimated yield was 98 kilos, Mr Hendron said.

Three garages built by Lancaster contained a bin liner of cannabis, a money counting machine, a Nissan Micra, £420,000 in cash, ten Rolex watches, a Gucci watch, gold chains, a quad bike, six motorbikes and four small quad bikes.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The seized watches The seized watches

There was also a BMW X5 belonging to Lancaster that was seized by the police.

He had previous convictions for supplying cannabis to friends, possession of cannabis, battery, racially aggravated common assault and resisting a police constable.

Robin Frieze said in mitigation that Lancaster knew there would be a prison sentence of some length.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The seized cashThe seized cash

He had developed a brain tumour when he was 18 and that had left him with epilepsy. He had suffered 15 seizures while in custody on remand and needed hospital treatment.

Lancaster began smoking cannabis because it made him less anxious and that helped to prevent the seizures.

He was a refrigerator engineer and then he ran a scaffolding company. He sold that and began to buy houses in the street and others elsewhere with legitimate tenants in them.

In 2020, a tenant suggested converting one of the addresses into a cannabis farm and he went on to allow all three of his houses in the street to be used by an Albanian organised crime group. He was paid a substantial amount of money but he did not own or distribute the cannabis.

Mr Frieze said he then helped the gang by renting three more houses in the street to grow the drug in. The ‘profitable and well organised operation’ had been going on for a year.

Lancaster was receiving £10,000 to 15,000 a month from it, Mr Frieze said.

He had a partner and three young children. His family had been caused a great deal of distress but his relatives were in court to support him.

Judge Mansell said the violence in Rylstone Gardens arose when men tried to break into one of the houses. Numerous black bin liners of cannabis were piled up in the address.

Lancaster had been stabbed and slashed three times and was bleeding profusely.

In the van was a bloodstained length of wood and there was a boy aged 16 in the back of the vehicle who had suffered horrific slash wounds to his face. He had gone missing from London and been exploited. He had been sent to burgle the house to steal the crop.

“Five further properties in the same cul-de-sac, which were either owned or let by you, or in respect of which you had some control, had been converted into commercial scale cannabis grows,” Judge Mansell said.

Lancaster had knowingly turned over six houses to the Albanian gang for the growing of the drug in expectation of significant financial gain.

When a rival gang from London arrived, he called for back-up and a boy was subjected to appalling violence that would leave him permanently scarred.

“I do not sentence you for the actions of others who inflicted those injuries on him. However, it is worth pointing out that the production of skunk cannabis on a commercial scale in residential and commercial premises is not a harmless enterprise but involves serious organised crime,” Judge Mansell stated.

“The profits that are to be made from the sale of skunk cannabis grown in this way are massive. The finding of £420,000 in cash which you were storing in your Nissan Micra plainly represents the proceeds of earlier cropped cannabis sold on the black market and speaks for itself.

“How much of that money was yours, and how much was due to be passed on to the Albanian organised crime group that was running these cannabis grows is unclear but since you were receiving £10,000-15,000 per month it would seem that this did represent the proceeds of your criminal activity.”

Confiscation proceedings would see Lancaster stripped of cash, watches, jewellery and bikes, Judge Mansell said.

Detective Inspector Tom Levitt, of Bradford’s Precision Team, said: "We welcome the sentence handed down to Lancaster today, drugs have no place in our community.

"A significant amount of drugs and money was seized in this operation and we will continue to target those who are involved in drug dealing and organised crime.

"Bradford’s Precision Team are committed to tackling serious and organised crime across the district and making the district a safer place to live and work."