Four men who rented properties in Runcorn and Merseyside in order to produce a widespread cannabis supply network have been jailed for 12 years and nine months.

The men would provide false documents under fabricated names to letting agents then move large equipment into the property to cultivate and produce cannabis.

Although the men rented the property they claimed they were sub-letting it to make a profit.

During a policing operation, which began in February 2018, cannabis was seized from the organised crime group to the value of several thousand pounds.

Lee Williams, aged 35, of Masseyfield Road in Runcorn rented a number of premises. In February officers raided one on Water Street in Runcorn, which he had been renting for two years, and found the remains of a cannabis farm.

Another property on The Uplands, Runcorn was reported as having strong smells of cannabis and burning coming from it. Inside there were large amounts of equipment used to build a drug farm.

Williams also rented a home on Seddon Street in St Helens where around 50 cannabis plants were seized from two bedrooms located on the first floor.

When interviewed by officers Williams said he had ‘no clue’ how to grow cannabis or what equipment is used to produce it.

Further investigation resulted in an address on Carnegie Crescent in St Helens being used by Liam Miller, aged 24, of Gladstone Street in St Helens, who also cultivated the growth of a cannabis farm.

Miller was stopped by police as he accompanied John McDonough, aged 31, formerly of Stanley Avenue in Wallasey - as they drove along Palacefields in Runcorn. A search of the car found items linked to cannabis cultivation including lights, transformers and fans.

McDonough’s dad Jason McDonough, aged 50, of Little Heath Road in Liverpool was found to have rented a property on Tasker Terrace in Rainhill, which contained cannabis plants in the upstairs bedroom.

Another property controlled and rented by the group on Grove Road in New Ferry was found to contain over 200 cannabis plants in a sophisticated set-up.

When Williams and John McDonough were wanted by police they attempted to avoid being caught by hiding out in a hotel room. When arrested officers recovered £3000 in cash and two mobile phones along with a hire car containing electric drills and gloves believed to have been used to produce cannabis.

Detective Sergeant Rob McLoughlin, of Runcorn Local Policing Unit, said: “These men were extremely sophisticated in orchestrating an enterprise to profit from the cultivation of cannabis.

“They colluded to conceal their crimes through manipulation by providing false details to letting agents in order to rent properties and conceal large amounts of drugs and equipment inside.

“Despite the men attempting to mislead police and evade capture, officers worked incredibly hard to gather information and evidence to ensure they had no option but to admit to their crimes and be served a prison sentence.”

All four men pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the production of cannabis and were each sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday 29 November.

John McDonough was sentenced to five years and three months, Jason McDonough will serve three years and six months, Williams was told he will be sentenced to three years and six months and Miller will serve 18 months.