Specialist officers take out organised crime group
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Specialist detectives have taken down an entire organised crime group who were polluting our communities with drugs after seven people were jailed for a total of nearly 56 years.
On the morning of 7 October 2020, officers carried out a series of warrants in the south and west of Essex including in Grays, Wickford, Brentwood, and Canvey Island.
Their targets were a group established in 2019 who had been selling Class A drugs across the county.
During the raids, they seized thousands of pounds in cash as well as drugs and a firearm.
The investigation came out of Operation Venetic – a major operation involving the cracking of a bespoke encrypted global communication service, exclusively used by criminals.
EncroChat offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service with 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 in the UK.
The primary use was for co-coordinating and planning criminal activities including the distribution of illicit commodities and money laundering.
Since 2016, international law enforcement agencies worked together to target EncroChat, and other encrypted criminal communications platforms, and in 2020 agencies in France and the Netherlands infiltrated the platform.
The intelligence gleaned through this was then shared via Europol to national law enforcement agencies.
This information helped identify the group led by Michael Read, who liaised with importers and arrange the collection of large quantities of cocaine.
Under him was Mark Gooch, considered the ‘go to' man, managing and organising the drug runners as well as having a major involvement in preparing the cocaine and transporting money.
The gang used the EncroChat devices to organise and discuss their activities. Each member went by a specific ‘handle’ or pseudonym.
Read went by ‘Positivity’, and Gooch was known as ‘Firefingers’.
Stephen Hart, who was used to transport cocaine from bigger suppliers, had the handle ‘Interestingheart’, while another handle identified was that of drugs runner Craig Phillips who went by ‘Pinkplumber’.
A runner –Jeremy Goldner – didn’t use EncroChat , while two other members of the gang – Lisa Warner and Mark Scarborough – didn’t have handles identified or attributed to them.
They ran their operation out of a container within a privately owned and secured yard in Lower Noke Close, Noak Hill.
Messages officers from our Serious and Organised Crime Unit intercepted included those showing they had paid more than £100,000 for 3kg of cocaine in March or April 2020 and sold it for £180,000.
Other messages showed discussions about arranging the importation and transportation of tens of kilos of cocaine and images of drugs and vacuum packed bags of cash.
During the investigation, different members of the gang were also witnessed carrying out drug deals.
One image showed the palm of someone’s hand holding a white substance in it.
Comparing the image to fingerprints held on the police national computer, it was identified the palm belonged to Stephen Hart.
Following the raids, 11 people were charged and later admitted a series of drugs offences.
At Basildon Crown Court on Thursday 9 February seven of them were jailed for a total of 55 years and eight months.
Convicted: Michael Read, 54, of Crouch Road, Grays. Jailed for 11 years and three months for Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property
Convicted: Mark Gooch, 38, of Sandringham Road, Pilgrims Hatch. Jailed for nine years and nine months for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property
Convicted: Craig Phillips , 44, of Buckles Lane, South Ockendon. Jailed for five years and 10 months for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property.
Convicted: Mark Scarborough, 35, of Adams Glade, Rochford. Jailed for three years and four months for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property.
Convicted: Stephen Hart, 54, of Thornden Wood Road, Herne Bay. Jailed for nine years and five months for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession with intent to supply Class A drugs, producing Class B drug, and transferring criminal property.
Convicted: Perry Revell, 40, of Boundary Lodge, Cratfield, Halesworth. Jailed for five years and 10 months for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, money laundering, and transferring criminal property.
Convicted: Glen Houghton, 41, of St Peters Street, Lowestoft. Jailed for nine years and five months for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession with intent to supply Class B drugs, and transferring criminal property.
Two others received suspended prison sentences.
Jeremy Goldner, 54, of Northolm, Edgware: - Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property; - Two years and four months suspended;
Lisa Warner, 45, of Cambridge Road, Canvey Island: - Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property - Four years suspended.
Detective Sergeant Mike Monkton from our Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said:
“Drugs are a plague upon our society and those involved in their importation and sale are responsible for ruining lives and destroying communities. “This group made hundreds of thousands of pounds from causing misery to others. “This was a thorough, widespread, and complex investigation but in the end, due to the sheer amount of evidence we had compiled against them, 11 people were left with no option but to plead guilty to the charges against them. “Essex Police is committed to identifying, targeting, and tackling those who import and sell drugs. “We are tireless in this endeavour and our work to protect you and your community from this evil continues.”