December 24, 2015
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian police voiced shock Thursday after discovering an eight-year-old boy locked up in a shed with only a mattress and a bucket at an elaborate underground drug-growing compound.
The boy and three other children -- all aged between one and nine -- were found during a raid on a remote property at Elands, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Sydney, after police moved in on suspicions 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 Newcastle Herald said the boy was found in a two square metre (21 square feet) area at the back of a tin work shed, the door locked from the outside and with only a single mattress and a bucket inside to use as a toilet.
The child reportedly told police he had been kept there for more than three weeks, enduring storms and high temperatures and only allowed outside to help with household chores.
The newspaper said he appeared to be malnourished.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter McKenna told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it was a "shocking" case.
"That side of the investigation is being handled by our child abuse squad," he said.
"We're very thankful we got there when we did and that those children are now having the proper care that they need."
During the raid police allegedly found a "highly sophisticated" cannabis growing operation.
Photos taken by police show an outdoor deck which retracted along metal rails to reveal a hidden staircase leading to a bunker made of welded shipping containers, allegedly used as a large cannabis growing room.
"There was actually a spa bath, a working spa bath, sunken into the deck, in the middle of the deck, so the whole thing just slid across revealing these trap doors," McKenna said.
"I think the offenders there were more surprised than us that we actually found it."
Two men and a woman, aged 28, 26 and 19, were charged with cultivating a large commercial quantity of a prohibited plant and unlawful detention of a person.