MEMBERS of a drugs ring have admitted converting a derelict hall into a secret cannabis factory.

Bankfield Hall, a secluded Georgian mansion in the heart of Great Urswick, was home to a secret base for cultivating the Class B drug on an industrial scale.

In January 2019 officers found almost 500 cannabis plants in various stages of production with a street value of £500,000 along with lamps, fans and associated paraphernalia during a police raid.

A second raid was carried out at a farm in Scales.

Villagers estimate the hall had stood derelict for 17 years although an increase in activity had been noticed during the 12 months before the raids.

Residents said security at the hall had been beefed up with strong locks on the gates, private property signs, ‘do not park here’ notices and boarded-up windows.

One resident reported seeing Doberman guard dogs running free in the hall’s grounds.

In summer 2018 a planning application was submitted to South Lakeland District Council to extend the 11-bedroom hall.

As well as an 84-bedroom hotel, the proposed development includes plans for a wedding chapel and a complex made up of 12 three-bedroom woodland lodges.

Councillor James Airey, who lives in Great Urswick, said the community had been shocked to discover what had been going on behind the doors of the grand hall.

“Urswick is a small, very supportive community," he said.

"Everybody is shocked that such a large-scale drugs operation could have been going on here for who knows how long.

“This shows that drugs have moved into rural communities and is closer to home than even we thought.”

On Friday at Preston Crown Court four men pleaded guilty to producing cannabis at Bankfield Hall.

Daniel Christopher Wood, 28, from Scales, along with three Liverpool men - Jack Clark 22, and Terence Clark, 37, both of Sevenacre Road, and Carl Stephen Dale, 22, of Bowland Drive, have all admitted producing a Class B drug.

All four will return to Preston Crown Court on March 27 to be sentenced.