Cannabis Farms Stealing £200 million a year in Electricity: The True Figures

The story every news organisation in Britian ran today:

Cannabis farmers steal about £200m worth of electricity across the UK every year to grow their illegal crops, according to new figures.

But how many actually looked at the ACPO and Met Police report or Newcastle University’s findings? Apart from the programme I worked on, I didn’t hear one report that questioned the figures.

It happens every day in the news. Press releases put out to get publicity and make companies, charities, or educational institutions money.

Last week it was a story put out by the RSPCA with huge questions over the context of the figures – a week before their major fundraising drive. Today, instead of a charity we blindly believe a University.

The £200million was calculated like this:

Danish Energy companies (who stand to gain financially from the high figures they produced for the media) published figures on how much electricity a Cannabis Farm used. Of course, this was an estimate because  Cannabis farms vary wildly in size. Cannabis Farms in Denmark are also likely to be much bigger as the latest ACPO report in the UK reveals more farms being detected by lower numbers of plants being seized, indicating a shift for drug barons using more farmers with smaller farms, thereby reducing the risk of being caught.

This number calculated by Danish Energy companies was then used by Newcastle University who are hoping to get funding for a major technology development project to create a detector for these farms. Whilst I wish the University every success and I’m proud it’s a team here in the North East doing it…they do stand to gain financially from the media interest in this story and whacking this high number out there has certainly done the trick.

But is the figure accurate?

Well the initial estimate was multiplied by the number of farms detected in the UK from 2010-2011.

1. All these farms are different sizes and therefore drawing different amounts of electricity.

2. They are only the detected ones – so there may be many more in the UK.

3. We don’t know what percentage actually are stealing electricity – in fact when I spoke to Northumbria Police about this it wasn’t something they’d seen a lot of. Whilst the officer I spoke to had seen Cannabis farms, he hadn’t come across them stealing electricity as regularly.

So £200million – we have absolutely no idea if that number is anywhere near the truth. So why did we all publish it? At least on BBC Newcastle we grilled the team from Newcastle University on the validity of their research. But are we still too busy playing good cop bad society instead of playing Journalists devoted to truth? Or is it just that we’ve got too few staff and not enough money? If we can do it in local radio, which has the least money of all, why can’t everyone do it?!

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