A SEVEN-TON lorry loaded with up to 3,000 cannabis plans was driven away from the town centre after being confiscated by police.
The haul, valued at more than £1.5m, was seized after armed police stormed a major drugs factory at the very heart of Wigan.
Three arrests were made as a large number of officers executed warrants at premises in the town centre yesterday (Tuesday) morning.
Shoppers looked on in shock as the dramatic raids were carried out at premises behind the Salvation Army shop on Wallgate at around 9am.
Scores of crime officers followed the tactical aid unit teams into a series of large rooms above a row of shops.
Drug-growing paraphernalia was also confiscated. The building was still sealed off and under guard by a patrol until well into the afternoon.
This was an audacious effort to grow many thousands of cannabis plants, concealed in buildings above unsuspecting shops in the heart of the town centreSergeant Simon Monks
Three men, aged 43, 40 and 27, have been arrested on suspicion of producing cannabis.
A woman, who asked not to be named, said the early-morning scenes were terrifying.
She said: “I had absolutely no idea what was going on, all we could see was loads of police officers rush in and storm into a building behind Harry’s Bar.
“It was really scary, anything could have been happening and we seemed to be right at the centre of it.
“Police were all armed and wearing protective clothing and were there all morning so it must have been a huge operation.
“And we were so confused as nobody would tell us anything and nobody else seems to know what was going on.
“Nothing like that ever really happens around here but for the past few weeks there has been such a strong smell of something like cannabis, so I guess it was only a matter of time before these people were caught out.
“It doesn’t take a scientist to realise what they were doing in there would have been illegal.”
Another witness added: “We had smelt a funny smell for a few days but put it down to hops from Allgates Brewery, which is nearby. But it looks like it was something more sinister.”
Residents took to Facebook to share their reaction to the raids.
Denise Kelly said: “It’s about time. The town has been stinking of weed for months.”
And Wendy Green wrote: “I’m surprised it’s taken so long to be discovered. Wallgate, King St West and the surrounding areas have stunk of weed for ages. I can only imagine the police have been using this time to ‘gather evidence’.”
Amy Fisher added: “This explains the smell.”
Sgt Simon Monks: “This was an audacious effort to grow many thousands of cannabis plants, concealed in buildings above unsuspecting shops in the heart of the town centre.
“We estimate that these drugs could have a street value of about £1.5m so to dent the pockets of the criminal gang responsible so significantly is obviously a fantastic result.”