A Horley man is among seven men who have been sentenced to more than 23 years' imprisonment between them after an investigation into the commercial production of cannabis.

Richard Hall, 39, was among those charged after the long investigation mounted by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU). Last week, they were sentenced at Lewes Crown Court in East Sussex.

As part of the operation, SEROCU conducted investigations into a number of premises in the South-east that were being used, or had been used, for the purposes of producing cannabis on an industrial scale.

During the trial, it was estimated that the various grows would have had an annual turn-over of approximately £1.5 million.

Following the four-week trial at Brighton Crown Court, Carl Lee, 32, from Balcombe, West Sussex, was found guilty on March 7 of three counts of conspiracy to produce cannabis on a commercial basis. He was also found guilty of production of cannabis at Michaelmas Barn, Bolney, on a commercial basis.

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

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 turn-over of millions of pounds.”

He said: "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.

"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.”

He continued: "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.

"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."

Lee was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, Hall to two years in prison, Alex Duffey, 34, from Dormansland, to two years and six months in prison, John Peacock, 51, from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, to four years and six months imprisonment, Jamie Garner, 23, from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, to two years and three months imprisonment, Dean Austin, 31, from Beckenham, Kent, to two years in prison, and John Lee, 28, of East Grinstead, West Sussex, to three years and nine months in prison.