How a middle-class family built a £4m cannabis empire to preserve their lifestyle | News

With a Mercedes and Porsche on the driveway, children at private school and a hot tub in the garden, Edward and Linda McCann fit in perfectly in the Hampshire village where they lived.

After years of hard work building an IT cabling business, Edward’s hobbies included beekeeping and smoking meats on the barbecue.

Yet beneath the respectable veneer, all was not as it seemed. Edward, 63, and his son Daniel, 38, had quietly begun growing and selling cannabis.

What began as a small drug-dealing business in Horndean, Hampshire, turned into an “industrial-scale cannabis factory” which the two men, along with Linda, 60, built at a remote farmhouse in Carmarthenshire, southwest Wales.

In echoes of the television series Breaking Bad, it also emerged that Edward had been diagnosed with leukaemia in 2010. He had initially become familiar with cannabis after using it to “alleviate” some of the side-effects of his chemotherapy, the court heard. Although the cancer is in remission, lawyers for Linda said Edward’s “life expectancy is not good”.

In the American drama, the chemistry teacher Walter Whiteturns to drug dealing to provide for his family after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

The McCanns’ profits from selling the class B drug could have reached £4.3 million, police estimate. Last month, Edward was sentenced to seven years and seven months in jail; Daniel received eight years and six months. Linda was jailed for six years and seven months in August, alongside two hired hands.

Edward McCann in his army uniform

Edward McCann in his army uniform

The judge Geraint Walters described the case as the “most sophisticated” cannabis factory operation he had seen in his career.

Although Edward’s interest in cannabis may have begun as a way to ease his cancer symptoms, at his sentencing hearing at Swansea crown court Walters said: “The reality is you moved on from it, and it would be an affront to common sense to suggest that an operation on this scale had anything to do with producing medicinal cannabis.”

Earlier, the court heard that the McCanns had used some of the drug money to fund their daughter’s university life. Samantha, now 27, was initially charged as part of the conspiracy — but the case against her was later dropped.

In one text exchange, Daniel told his sister he had paid her tuition fees. When she thanked him, he replied: “Don’t be silly, barn paid lol.”

But the fallout from the McCanns’ business dealings did not stop at the drug factory. Friends and acquaintances also say they lost tens of thousands of pounds after Edward convinced them to invest £15,000 each in a business that never materialised.

Here, through interviews with those who knew them and with the detective in the case, as well as visits to Hampshire and Wales, we tracked the transformation of a middle-class family who became hugely wealthy drug dealers.

The life before

Edward grew up in Hampshire, joining the army’s royal electronic mechanical engineers after leaving school. He fell in love with Linda on a teenage camping holiday in Cornwall.

Paul Windsor, 68, a former friend, met Edward in 1979 when they were posted in Germany. At the time, Edward was a keen canoeist, representing the corps in competitions.

After Edward left the army, he went on to complete a university qualification in electrical engineering before setting up an IT business.

In 1996, the McCanns moved to a five-bedroom home in Horndean, a parish on the edge of the South Downs, with their children.

Dave Rose, 63, had known Edward since they were schoolboys. The McCanns would host dinners for Dave and his wife Lorna where the wine and after dinner brandies flowed freely.

Lorna, 62, said: “He [Edward] had all the latest gadgets, treadmill and weights in the garage, a Bose sound system, flash cars with personalised plates, pedigree dog . . . We were impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit and apparent wealth.”

Paul lost touch with Edward after their army days but they reconnected in 2007. “When we went down to see him he gave us some honey from his beehives . . . Honestly, he was your typically middle-class chap, really very pleasant, as was Linda,” Paul said.

The NHS project

By 2009, Edward’s IT business Electrotec was in trouble and about to go bust.

“He used to joke about how he was in the wrong business and that porn or drugs would be more lucrative,” Lorna said.

Edward told friends that the collapse of the business was a result of the recession. Others heard it had been prompted by an employment tribunal.

Later that year, Edward appeared to have bounced back, describing to friends a new venture: a medical records app that he hoped to sell to the NHS at the beginning of the smartphone era.

To drum up investment, he asked friends to put £15,000 each into the project, saying he needed ten backers. The company was called Envision Europe although investors said “it kept changing names” A separate company, Orbis, was also set up around the same time.

Paul and his wife agreed to put money in, as did Rachel Wilkinson, 59, who had met the McCanns out dog walking.

The McCanns transformed their barn into a cannabis factory complete with CCTV and a double-skin insulated roof to avoid detection

The McCanns transformed their barn into a cannabis factory complete with CCTV and a double-skin insulated roof to avoid detection

At the time, Rachel and her husband, now retired, worked for the technology company IBM.

“None of us were gullible people, we saw the product and believed in it and that’s why we put our money into the whole thing,” she recalls. “They lived a flashy life . . . and we wondered at times: ‘Where do they get that money?’”

Paul, the other investor, added: “He [Edward] sold it in such a way that it sounded so good … He came across as very intelligent, he got me hook, line and sinker.”

Things quickly started to go wrong.

“By 2011 I had written my money off, I knew it had gone,” Rachel said. “It was a bit like venture capital, betting on horses. I didn’t anticipate the money would go so quickly.”

Around the time when investors began to worry, Edward was beaten up. He told friends he had chased intruders into a field after an attempted burglary, before being smashed in the face. He needed dozens of stitches and lost teeth.

In Horndean, some remember a “pleasant” family attending a Jubilee street celebration or joining a Tupperware party. Others had different tales. One local claimed Edward once came at a neighbour with a pick-axe after a dispute over a wall.

Soon after the assault, Edward announced that he had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

Several clothes horses and fans were used to dry out the cannabis

Several clothes horses and fans were used to dry out the cannabis

Bulletproof windows

As well as pleading guilty to conspiracy to produce and supply cannabis between 2015 and 2020 and acquiring criminal property, namely cash, Edward and Daniel McCann also admitted running a smaller-scale operation between 2013 and 2015 from the family home in Hampshire.

Police were able to prove that the pair had begun growing cannabis there thanks to messages between Edward and Daniel.

The friends who invested, meanwhile, found themselves cut off.

“I didn’t go to police,” Lorna said. “You think if you leave him to get on with it, will he then make a success of it and we’ll get our money back?

“[We were] convinced he would eventually pay it back, all whilst he was dealing cannabis and plotting to manufacture it.”

In July 2014, the house in Wales was purchased for £385,000. The prosecution said it was bought “specifically for the purposes of this cannabis manufacturing operation”.

Blaenllain is a cream two-storey farmhouse on a remote country road between the village of Blaenwaun and the community of Llanwinio.

Its large corrugated iron barn might only warrant a second look if you noticed that it is decked out with CCTV cameras.

The McCanns spent months scouring for a suitably isolated property that “suited their needs perfectly”, the court heard.

They began converting the barn and installing equipment for the “industrial- scale” operation and recruited local workers Justin Liles, 32, and Jack Whittock, 29.

Linda was given the nickname “Edward Scissorhands” because she was so proficient at trimming the crops.

In a message Daniel sent to his mother in September 2020, he described shipping the drugs as far as Surrey. “Guildford will take it at a high price if can’t get rid of it all in Wales,” he wrote.

Cannabis resin was cooked in an oven

Cannabis resin was cooked in an oven

In court, Linda was described as a “loyal and devoted wife and mother”. The judge said she had been an “enthusiastic participant” in the “hugely profitable” business.

Neighbours in Wales remember being told that Daniel was in the SAS or “ex-SAS”. Counterterrorism was also mentioned. There were rumours that the family had installed a “bulletproof door and windows”.

One neighbour said: “I was a bit worried. If you have bulletproof windows, is it safe for our grandchildren to come off the school bus? I wondered if they were storing firearms for the SAS or they were in a safe house.”

In the summer of 2020, a neighbour remembers a drone flying above, and asked for it to be stopped. The McCanns said “they were just doing it for fun”, the neighbour said.

A few weeks later, the property was swarming with police cars.

The raid

On October 23, 2020, officers forced their way into the barn and were faced with an overwhelming smell of cannabis.

When Chief Inspector Rhys Jones and Detective Sergeant Owen Lock arrived, the “scale and complexity” of the manufacturing operation was clear.

As well as the plants — which had a potential value of up to £460,000 — officers recovered about 80kg of “cannabis product”, worth up to £1.5 million, including bottles of cannabis oil and cannabis-infused chocolate.

“It was just before Christmas, October time, and they had a lot of cannabis flavoured chocolates in a Christmas theme going out,” Jones said.

They found £10,000 cash divided into individual £1,000 bundles and further significant sums elsewhere as well as a shoebox containing money.

The cannabis resin was used to make edibles, such as cannabis-infused chocolates

The cannabis resin was used to make edibles, such as cannabis-infused chocolates

Downstairs, the barn was divided into six rooms, each with a huge number of cannabis plants at different stages of growth. In total, 202 plants were discovered.

Upstairs was the “production” area with tools including secateurs and magnifying glass lights and a drying room with clothes horses.

A machine for sealing cans was also found along with tins, described in court as an “emerging trend” to keep cannabis fresh.

Police also seized the keys to Daniel’s Porsche and a Mercedes.

Jones recalled: “The roof was probably double-skin insulated, to avoid detection and also to keep the heat inside.”

The power supply to the barn had been bypassed. The McCanns had a trench dug for an armoured cable which ran from the building directly to a nearby electricity pole on a public highway.

“They’d gone to significant lengths bypassing the electricity so the utility services wouldn’t have been aware of the amount of electricity being generated,” Jones said.

Linda was arrested in the barn with the hired helpers. Edward was found inside the house while Daniel was arrested the following February at a police station in Portsmouth.

The officers leading the case would not specify how they found out about the factory — but Jones said his teams were often able to “get a lot of good information and intelligence” from the community.

Ten months after the raid, the whole family, including Samantha, were charged as part of the conspiracy.

Samantha stood trial last April but when the others changed their pleas to guilty, five days into proceedings, the prosecution offered no evidence against her and the jury was directed to return not guilty verdicts in relation to her charges.

The aftermath

Edward, Daniel and Linda are now behind bars but the impact of their actions is still felt by those who put their savings into the failed venture.

Investors have now begun to suspect their money may have helped build the drug factory, although they have no evidence for this link.

Edward, Daniel and Linda McCann in mugshots provided by the police

Edward, Daniel and Linda McCann in mugshots provided by the police

The Roses found out about the McCanns’ criminal enterprise when they googled Edward’s name. “I thought it was something made up. I was stunned,” Dave said. “The money we loaned Ed was our life savings at the time. It was horrendous to lose it,” Lorna added.

After years of friendship, Paul feels the betrayal deeply and “very much suspects” his money was used to establish the illegal business.

The Sunday Times has seen a copy of a contract that Edward and investors signed which says the agreement was for five years and after that the amount could be converted to shares or paid back with interest.

In an email sent to one investor, who we are not naming, in 2014, Edward said he could not “in any way or form take responsibility for your loss or anyone else’s” and denied he was a “a crook or someone without morals”.

He cited a “force majeure clause”, saying his cancer had been “completely outside my control”.

Asked about any potential link between the investors’ money and the drugs operation, Jones said: “Whether their money was utilised, possibly; but can I say that categorically, no I can’t. But is it feasible, yes it is.”

Samantha’s LinkedIn picture shows her smiling and dressed in what appears to be a graduation robe. The page says she was awarded a 2:1 degree in law and psychology by the University of the West of England in 2018, followed by a distinction in an experimental psychology master’s degree in 2020 from Bristol University.

Her latest job was at a marketing agency. She declined to comment. Lawyers for the rest of the family did not respond to a request for comment.

The police would not confirm whether Daniel had been in the SAS. During proceedings, he said he had a military background in special forces and it was said that he had served in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence would not comment but the department understood that he did work in the military at some point.

When our reporter visited earlier this month, Blaenllain lay empty. A black Mercedes V8, said to have previously been parked at the farmhouse, still sits abandoned in a community hall car park two miles up the road.

Members of the local community Facebook group put up a photo of the vehicle, asking the owner to come forward. No one did. Dyfed-Powys police said the car is due to be removed.

Ross Gallie, 55, clerk of Llanwinio council, said : “Supposedly the keys are with the solicitor. It’s still there. It’s been there for a long time … It reminds people of them. Obviously other people have good cars around here but don’t leave them abandoned in a car park.”

Source link