Flip-flops, vitamins and a broken sunbed: inside the cannabis bunker | UK news

Room 104 of the nuclear bunker in Wiltshire was originally designated as a sick bay for senior military personnel, who would have been dispatched to the 40-room underground shelter in the event of nuclear war. When police raided the site in February they found it had been turned into living quarters for four Vietnamese men who were locked inside the building, responsible for watering, pruning and feeding 4,600 cannabis plants.

When the Guardian visited two days later, police were still counting and photographing the plants before destroying them. The smell was overwhelming.

On Friday the three men who ran the vast underground farm were jailed for between five and eight years each. There was an outcry from pressure groups when they faced no charges on slavery offences. One police officer said the conditions in which the Vietnamese men had been kept suggested there was “no doubt” they had been enslaved.

The four men slept on mattresses on the floor of the sick bay. There was a television, and piles of Vietnamese DVDs to help pass the time. In a futile attempt to make the room look more cheerful, someone had hung Vietnamese calendars from the ceiling and brought in a golden Buddha, a couple of unhealthy pot plants and a fish tank containing two carp.

Light summer clothes were hung on a wire strung from one side of the room to another. There were several pairs of flip-flops but no outside shoes or clothes – possibly an indication that the men were not allowed out. The plumbing did not seem to be working; there were about 28 five-litre plastic bottles filled with urine in the loos.

The judge Keith Cutler, passing sentence on the three bosses, concluded it was not clear whether or not the Vietnamese men had been compelled to work there. But over the last decade charities such as the Children’s Society and the Salvation Army have worked with hundreds of Vietnamese men trafficked into cannabis slavery in the UK. Walking around the bunker, it was hard to imagine anyone would choose to be locked up there.

The bunker’s toilet facilities. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Some of the windowless rooms (still marked with MoD signs labelling them “male dormitory” and “female dormitory”, or allocating them to “government departments” and “scientists”) had canisters of plant food piled up to the ceiling, dozens of bottles of Canna Rhizotonic root stimulator and hundreds of pots of Grotek Monster Bloom fertiliser, widely used by cannabis growers. Asda shopping trolleys had been used to push soil from one room to the next. Each room had around 25 plugs wired to an electricity supply stolen from a nearby pylon, dangerously rigged up to power lights and fans.

To help with the effects of being incarcerated, whoever was supplying provisions had brought in vitamin tablets, tangerines, Panadol and Lemsip sachets. There were boxes of onions and fresh ginger in the dilapidated military kitchen, where the deep-freezers were filled with supplies for a long stay. A recent food delivery contained packets of vindaloo sauce, noodles, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a box of Quality Street and Werther’s Originals.

There was a punchbag, weightlifting equipment, a broken sunbed and several antique Sega Pac-Man machines, also not working. In a room stacked high with old office furniture and discarded MoD computers was a Dalek, one of several collected by Martin Fillery, who was leasing the bunker and who collected and sold bits of film memorabilia.

“This is the reality of slavery,” Det Insp Paul Franklin said in February. “People sleeping on a mattress on the floor, urinating in a plastic tub, having no access to getting outside. It’s very unpleasant. This was hard manual labour. You can see how bad the exploitation is.”

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