Australian police have discovered an eight-year-old boy allegedly locked in a small shed for several weeks with only a mattress and a bucket. Officers also discovered a ‘highly sophisticated’ underground drug operation.
The boy, along with three other children, all aged between 12 months and nine years, were discovered during a raid on a rural property at Elands, 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Sydney when police moved in after suspicions were raised that cannabis plants were being grown there.
“Police will allege one of the children was locked in a room for long periods of time over the past few weeks,” police said.
The boy reportedly told police he had been detained in the shed for more than three weeks enduring storms and high temperatures, adding, he was only allowed out to do household chores, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Thursday.
While the Newcastle Herald newspaper reported the boy was found confined in a two square meter (21 square feet) area at the back of a tin shed, the door was locked from the outside, it said.
The newspaper added that the eight-year-old appeared to be malnourished.
Authorities had been searching the home for several hours when an officer flicked a switch, and the outdoor wooden decking, complete with working Jacuzzi, slid on hydraulics to reveal a trapdoor.
The underground laboratory, comprising of three shipping containers fitted out with lights and water, was where New South Wales police allege they found 225 cannabis plants growing in a complex hydroponic set-up.
“I think it is fair to say it is very elaborate,” Detective Inspector Peter McKenna told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“When the switch was flicked the humming noise kicked in and the deck started to roll back. It startled a few of them.”
The children have been placed in the care of the Department of Family and Community Services.
Two men aged 28 and 19 have been charged with drug offences while the 26-year-old mother of the imprisoned boy has been charged with numerous drug offences and detaining a person for financial gain.
Officials are continuing to search for two more people in connection with the drug laboratory, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
jlw/jil (AFP, dpa)