THE landlords of a disused leisure centre which was used to produce “industrial amounts” of cannabis with a potential street value of more than £1.5 million have been jailed.

Mohammed Nawaz, 68, of Broadfields Avenue, Edgware, and Abdul Manuf, 46, of Alexandra Road, Stoke-on-Trent, had each faced a single charge of conspiracy to produce class B drugs.

Cardiff Crown Court heard yesterday that Nawaz had bought the empty Underwood Leisure Centre in February 2014 and had allowed it to be used for producing cannabis.

Prosecutor Roger Griffiths said that police raided the leisure centre in August 2014 to find a cannabis factory that had produced an estimated yield of 132 kilos of cannabis.

“This was a large-scale production of cannabis, with a potential street value of £1.65 million,” said Mr Griffiths.

He added that more than 2,000 plants were seized at the centre’s former sports hall, with growing equipment such as lighting and fans worth up to £28,000 also uncovered by police.

Nawaz, who owned the leisure centre, was found guilty by a jury in November 2016 while Manuf, the building’s licensee, pleaded guilty on the day of trial.

The building was one of four sites across the UK owned by Nawaz to be used in the drugs operation, with a second in Wales found at Miskin Community Centre in Mountain Ash.

Other buildings owned by Nawaz were found in Grimsby and Leicestershire.

Nawaz, had leased three of the buildings – including Underwood Leisure Centre – to Manuf, a taxi driver by trade.

The court heard that he had driven individuals involved with the drugs operation to locations “on behalf of others”.

Judge Neil Bidder QC described the leisure centre operation as being “on an industrial scale” but conceded that neither defendant was a conspiracy organisers.

But he found Nawaz, who had previously been convicted of conspiracy to produce cannabis, to have had played a significant role and sentenced him to seven years imprisonment.

Martin Huseyin, defending Nawaz, had asked Judge Bidder to lower the sentence due to his client’s poor health and the likelihood that his Pakistan-based sister will die while he is imprisoned.

“He has mental health problems that are varied and not just anxiety. These are long-standing problems and he was given psychological counselling,” said Mr Huseyin.

“He will be isolated and will become a sad and lonely man in jail.”

Judge Bidder handed Manuf a sentence of 37 months for a lesser role in proceedings.

Philip Vollans, defending, said that his client was initially unaware that he was driving individuals involved in an “illicit” operation.

“He accepts his involvement, this was guaranteed work in immensely difficult times,” said Mr Vollans.

“It is not the individual that commits the crime that suffers the most, it’s the family and his wife suffers from severe depression.”

He added: “He also has a drink a problem after his two children from a previous relationship both died in a car accident.”

Judge Bidder told both defendants: “Greed was a strong motivation for you and you began allowing criminals to use your premises in order to produce cannabis and for substantial profit.”

Detective Constable Simon Reed who led on the investigation for Gwent Police said: “This investigation has involved three years of thorough and detailed work with other police forces in the UK.

"These two individuals were part of an organised crime group that used wide spread criminality for their own gain.

"We are pleased with these sentences and hope they reinforce to others hoping to profit from illegal cannabis factories that we are committed to tackling illegal drug activity which can have a negative and far-reaching impact on our local communities.”

And Iwan Jenkins, of the Crown Prosecution Service, added: “Prosecutors have to follow a considerable paper trail in these cases to demonstrate what’s actually happened.

“We provided advice to the relevant police forces at an early stage, working with them to organise the various strands of evidence.

“These two men were involved in the illegal drugs business, whether they actually grew the plants or not, and have now been dealt with for their criminal activities.”