BURGLARS panicked and fled as they raided a cannabis factory containing about 200 plants.
The hapless gang were trying to steal the drugs, but were startled while in the converted office above Prestige Wheels and Tyres, London Road, Leigh.
They dropped the plants they were carrying, leaving heaps of soil all over the stairs.
Police were called in by concerned neighbours and the force’s helicopter was dispatched.
A man was soon arrested outside the Bellini bar and restaurant at the junction with Oakleigh Park Drive, Leigh, along with two other men who were filling up a Mini with petrol at the BP garage, also in London Road, Westcliff.
The arrests led police to a three-bed house in Gainsborough Drive, Westcliff, where they found ten more cannabis plants in a bedroom.
Another room had also been kitted out with equipment ready to turn it into a large grow room, which police said could have housed hundreds of plants.
PC Nick Burton, of Leigh Focus Team, said it was not uncommon for cannabis factories to be burgled.
He said: “It’s certainly an occupational hazard for the people growing it. It has happened before.”
Michael Lambert, 51, who owns nearby Anglia Batteries, said: “We couldn’t even smell anything.
“I live not far from here and I heard the helicopter, but I didn’t know what happened until I turned up for work.”
Pearl Smith, who owns Collectors Paradise, in London Road, Leigh, said: “I’m surprised I didn’t hear it because I live here and it’s just across the road.
“The first I knew about it was when the policeman came and asked if I had CCTV.”
PC Burton added: “I’d like to thank members of the public for their information and for alerting us to this.
“Without the public’s information not only would the damage and the burglary have been unreported, but the cannabis factories would not have been discovered.”
The three men – aged 22, 25, and 29 – remain in police custody.
The foiled burglary happened at about 11.30pm on Tuesday.
l Anyone who believes cannabis is being grown in their neighbourhood can call Leigh Focus Team on 0300 3334444.