A PROLIFIC Coventry crook has been jailed for more than four years after his ‘drugs empire’, which had the potential to earn him £400,000 a year, was uncovered by detectives.
Nigel Barwell, from James Galloway Close in Binley, managed cannabis cultivation ‘farms’ in at least five properties across the city− all with extensive light, heat and ventilation set-ups.
But his operation was uncovered when detectives raided an address in Lanside, Willenhall on February 26 last year – finding 40 mature cannabis plants in one bedroom.
Forensic examination of the flat’s electricity meter − which had been tampered with to abstract power for free − revealed Barwell’s fingerprints while his DNA was also recovered from a cigarette butt found in an ashtray.
A warrant executed in Craners Road, Stoke, on the same day revealed the remnants of a cannabis factory, but more plants and growing kit were seized during further police checks in Shellon Close, Rosemary Close and Hampshire Close.
And in another property in Sunnybank Avenue, Willenhall, officers found thousands of pounds worth of cannabis growing equipment in the garage.
Police had observed Barwell purchasing hydroponics equipment and more forensics checks on items found in the properties linked him to cannabis production.
The 29-year-old was arrested from prison in Worcestershire on April 10 − where he was on remand for dangerous driving − but refused to answer any questions in interview.
Detectives found photos saved on Barwell’s phone showing rooms packed with cannabis plants and another of him posing with a large bundle of cash.
He went on to admit cultivating cannabis and at Birmingham Crown Court on August 11 was jailed for four years and six months.
Investigating officer, DC Rory Juss, said a drugs expert estimated Barwell could have made upwards of £400,000 a year from his cannabis factories – with text messages suggesting he was looking to expand his operation.
A drugs expert estimated Barwell could have made upwards of £400,000 a year from his network of cannabis factories…and there was evidence in the form of text messages to suggest he was looking to expand his operation.
DC Juss added: “Barwell is a career criminal, with a long history of offending, and there is little doubt that his drugs empire would be linked to wider criminality impacting on people across Coventry.
“I’m satisfied he’s been put behind bars for a lengthy period and he will be robustly managed by our offender management team upon his eventual release.
“A Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) hearing has also been scheduled for later this year when we will look to recover any money or assets Barwell made from his drug empire.
“We’re determined there will be no drug money left for him to count when he’s eventually released from prison.”
Two other people − Nicholas Jones and Kyle Burton − were also convicted of helping Barwell manage his drugs factories.
Jones, aged 22, was arrested returning to his home in Hampshire Close, Binley, on March 17 while police were clearing up the remnants of a recently harvested cannabis crop found in a bedroom.
And 25-year-old Burton, from Chapel Farm Close in Willenhall, admitted acting in a crop maintenance role after being spotted by police spending up to an hour at the Shellon Close house farm.
They were handed prison terms of three years and 11 months, respectively, for their roles in the cannabis cultivation conspiracy.
Barwell’s jailing is the latest success for Operation Blue Steel − a concerted clampdown on organised crime and crime families operating in the city.
#OpBlueSteel sees police, the local authority, housing providers, DVLA, probation, the Department for Work and Pensions and other organisations working together to disrupt gang members and, where possible, press criminal charges.