Police in the West Midlands launched a raid at what they thought was a cannabis farm stealing electricity.

But the police were surprised when the location, on the Great Bridge Industrial Estate, Sandwell (near Birmingham), turned out to be a Bitcoin mining operation instead.

The raid will reinforce the views of some officials of the link between criminals and cryptocurrencies, at a time when the valuation of some of the biggest digital currencies has been fluctuating wildly.

Police raid

West Midlands police announced the discovery of the cryptocurrency mining operation on Thursday.

“We executed a drugs warrant at a Black Country industrial unit – and uncovered a cryptocurrency ‘mine’ that was stealing thousands of pounds worth of electricity from the mains supply,” the police stated.

The police said they had conducted the raid on the back of intelligence suggesting the location was being used as a cannabis farm.

“We heard how lots of people were visiting the unit at different times of day, lots of wiring and ventilation ducts were visible, and a police drone picked up a considerable heat source from above,” the police stated.

These are all classic cannabis factory signs, “but when officers gained entry they found a huge bank of around 100 computer units as part of what’s understood to be a Bitcoin mining operation.”

The IT kit was seized “and enquiries with Western Power revealed the electric supply had been bypassed and thousands of pounds worth had been stolen to power the ‘mine’.”

“It’s certainly not what we were expecting!” explained Sandwell Police Sergeant Jennifer Griffin. “It had all the hallmarks of a cannabis cultivation set-up and I believe it’s only the second such crypto mine we’ve encountered in the West Midlands.”

“My understanding is that mining for cryptocurrency is not itself illegal but clearly abstracting electricity from the mains supply to power it is,” said Sergeant Griffin.

“We’ve seized the equipment and will be looking into permanently seizing it under the Proceeds of Crime Act. No-one was at the unit at the time of the warrant and no arrests have been made – but we’ll be making enquiries with the unit’s owner,” she added.

The warrant was one of almost 50 executed as part of County Lines Intensification Week.

Environmental impact

It should be remembered that Bitcoin mining uses large amounts of energy, which has a negative environmental impact.

Essentially, Bitcoin is created when high-powered computers compete against other machines to solve complex mathematical puzzles, a process known as mining.

This is mostly done in China, and is an an energy-sapping activity that currently often relies on electricity generated with fossil fuels, particularly coal.

At current rates, Bitcoin mining uses about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019, data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency has reportedly shown.

The harsh impact cryptocurrency mining has on the planet because of its huge power consumption, caused long-time champion Elon Musk to halt its use to purchase Tesla cars, which coupled with increasing Chinese restrictions, caused the value of Bitcoin to plummet, after a year of gains.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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