In the Media

Drugs raid in hamlet linked to the film Saving Grace

PUBLISHED July 8, 2012

When a remote Cornish hamlet featured in the film Saving Grace, it became part of a heart-warming tale of villagers turning a blind eye to a widow cultivating cannabis to make ends meet.

Now life has imitated art, with a real-life drug farm uncovered in Port Gaverne, which has 35 homes, a permanent population of 20, and just one other recorded crime this year, a petty act of vandalism.

This time the story had a different ending, involving a raid by vans filled with police, three arrests and the confiscation of more than 500 plants. It was in February that the first signs were spotted.

When two new tenants moved into Twizzel Twig and Stop Tide, two slate-roofed cottages near the National Trust-owned fish cellars, they put heavy curtains over every window, refused to answer the door and rarely ventured outside.

Speculation was soon rife.

"My neighbour was convinced," said one woman. "He told me, 'It's either witness protection or terrorists'."

An unmistakable, sickly-sweet smell was soon noticed.

"If the wind was in the right direction," said one middle-aged housewife, "when I was on my vegetable plot, gosh, it was strong".

Another resident said: "Sometimes I got a waft of what was coming from the house. I would go home and tell my husband, 'I'm high'."

As the gossip intensified, Twizzel Twig and Stop Tide acquired a new nickname: Skunk House.

At this stage, reality diverged from the movie script. In the film, which starred Brenda Blethyn with some scenes filmed in Port Gaverne, there was a conspiracy of silence. In reality, the police were called.

Following a surveillance operation, officers raided Twizzel Twig and Stop Tide on June 29.

As bemused holidaymakers emerged with cups of tea for the officers, half a dozen police chased two fleeing suspects through the hamlet.

Officers and police dogs searched surrounding hills after one suspect briefly escaped.

"The raid could have been an out-take from Saving Grace," said Kay Berry, 66, a plasterer visiting from Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex.

"There were loads of policemen. Policemen were bashing the doors in, smashing the glass panels."

The village is not alone in being used by cannabis cultivators. Police figures show that 7,865 "farms" were found between April 2011 and March 2012 in England and Wales, a dramatic increase on 2007-08, when 3,032 were raided.

Insp Ian Drummond-Smith, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said he suspected that an organised criminal gang had sought a "quiet corner" of Britain to operate without disturbance.

Two 16-year-old Vietnamese nationals and a 30-year-old Exeter man have been arrested on suspicion of cannabis production and bailed until September 27.