A TEAM of 20 people work in the drugs section of the forensic science laboratory in Huntingdon. Their job is to determine that the drugs found and confiscated by the police are what they appear to be. Most of the laboratory smells of cannabis, the most c

A TEAM of 20 people work in the drugs section of the forensic science laboratory in Huntingdon.

Their job is to determine that the drugs found and confiscated by the police are what they appear to be.

Most of the laboratory smells of cannabis, the most common drug it deals with and which seems to be taken there in vast sheaves.

"More cannabis is being grown in this country," says James Painter, who has a PhD in chemistry from Cambridge University and spends some of his time determining whether a batch of skunk is "good stuff".

In order to replicate growing conditions in Afghanistan, whole houses in the UK have been turned over to cannabis production, turning what was a home into a factory.

At one three-bedroom terrace in Cambridgeshire, the plot was discovered when the drug started to be smelled by the people next door. However, the most sophisticated systems have ducting to remove the moisture and the smell.

Dr Painter said: "The floors will be taken up, every room will be full of plants being treated with artificial light.

"There will be an elaborate system of ducting for watering the plants and the electricity supply will be direct into the mains, bypassing the meter because otherwise it would be too expensive.

"The windows will be blacked out but sometimes there will be a lamp on a timer so that from the outside, it looks like a normal house. Imagine being a landlord and finding your house has been torn apart like that."

In what looks like an exhibit from a museum, there is a display of illegal drugs in a wall-case of boxes like the ones used to display china miniatures. There is a little clay pipe for smoking crack, a tiny teaspoon next to some heroin, like something from a doll's house, and a razor with some cannabis resin - and some foil to represent chasing the dragon. There is also a display of the different markings on Ecstasy tablets, making the class A drug look like a collection of sweets.

One drugs haul being worked on this month was found in two rucksacks in a van. After analysis in the lab one was found to contain 33kg of heroin, the other more than 27kg of cocaine. The van driver said he "found them by the side of the road". He had been stopped for having a defective tail light and not wearing a seat belt.

When you commit any kind of crime these days, you are up against scientists with top minds and highly joined-up thinking. It is best to break only one law at a time.