Seven men have been jailed for more than 23 years for their part in the commercial production of cannabis in a South Downs barn.

Carl Lee, 32, John Peacock, 51, Jamie Garner, 23, John Lee, 28, Alex Duffy, 34, Jamie Garner, 22, Dean Austin, 31, and Richard Hall, 39, were sentenced at Lewes Crown Court yesterday following a four week trial.

It is estimated their operation, which was run from Michaelmas Barn in Bolney, had an annual turnover of £1.5 million.

South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) Detective Inspector Simon Harsley, who led the case, said: “The men at court today probably thought that their seemingly lucrative business would go unnoticed by the police, but it didn't and now they must pay the consequences of their actions with a prison sentence.

“The investigation will not conclude when those before the court are convicted and investigators will seek to recover the proceeds of their criminal activity utilising the proceeds of crime act.”

Lee, from Balcombe, was identified as the leader and found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to produce cannabis on a commercial basis.

He was also found guilty of production of cannabis on a commercial basis. He was sentenced to seven years.

The other six had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce cannabis on a commercial basis at a previous hearing.

Peacock, of Burgess Hill, got four years and six months, Garner, of Haywards Heath, two years and three months, Lee, of East Grinstead, three years nine months, Duffy, of Dormansland, in Surrey, two years six months, Garner, of Haywards Heath, two years three months, Austin, of Beckenham, in Kent, two years and Hall, of Horley, also two years.

Det Insp Simon Harsley said: “This was an investigation by the Criminal Finance Team that targeted a number of commercial cannabis factories and had a potential turnover of millions of pounds.

“As the investigation developed, it became clear that a shop selling hydroponics equipment and fertiliser was at the centre of this industrial and commercial enterprise.”

He added: “An order was also granted at court today enabling the team to donate some of the hydroponics equipment seized from this business to worthy causes such as community based projects and National Trust Gardens.”