Drug dealers using encrypted phones sentenced to 164 years in prison
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Drug dealing gangs in Essex using encrypted phones to avoid the police have been sentenced to 164 years in prison since 2020 – with more than 20 more facing trial or awaiting sentencing.
Since 2016, international law enforcement agencies have 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 and the National Crime Agency – and was used to inform several operations across Essex to catch criminals in the act.
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-ordinating and planning criminal activities including the distribution of illicit commodities and money laundering.
Officers in our Serious Organised Crime Unit have worked tirelessly since having access to this network, and their work has put more than 20 organised criminals behind bars for more than 160 years so far.
‘A landmark moment’
One of the last men to be put behind bars for this drug dealing in 2023 was Henry Allpress.
On Monday 18 December 2023 the 29-year-old form Carroll Hill in Loughton was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for his leading role in an OCG which distributed more than 70kg and a substantial amount of cannabis throughout Essex and London.
The criminal enterprise made and laundered more than £5million while in operation. Officers reviewed more than 50,000 messages sent under pseudonyms via EncroChat that they connected to other OCG members.
This work led to sentences for five other OCG members in 2022, receiving a total of 34 years between them.
Detective Superintendent Ian Dyball, of the Serious Crime Command, said:
“The cracking of the EncroChat network was a landmark moment in the fight against organised criminal activity across the UK. “It enabled us to intercept the illicit trade of some of the most dangerous criminal gangs operating in our country. “We have used every piece of intelligence we can gather from this network to disrupt their supply chains, to arrest the most senior criminals involved, and prove beyond doubt that they were responsible for the drugs that cause so much harm to individuals and communities. “The reality of illegal drug supply on the streets is the widespread exploitation of vulnerable people, often children, and violence. “Our work to dismantle drug supply networks is ceaseless. Our message to those supplying these substances is simple: It is a matter of when, not if, you are caught.”
EncroChat made him feel like he had ‘impunity’
One drug dealer using these encrypted phones was sentenced to 18 years for a litany of drugs offences.
Darren Stirling, 58, was connected to the supply of cocaine, MDMA, cannabis and ketamine in Basildon.
He had been using an EncroChat device, but shared a photo of himself on the boat he lived on with drugs and money in shot on the device.
Unaware officers had cracked the encrypted network, they were able to identify the boat. Essex Police and NCA officers swooped in on the boat in Penton Hook Marina, Chertsey.
Stirling was found on the vessel and was immediately recognised by officers.
Also seized from the boat were a suspected encrypted mobile device, cannabis, hundreds of tablets and a signal jammer device.
The messages attributed to Stirling showed his involvement in the supply of large quantities of cocaine, MDMA, amphetamines, cannabis and ketamine.
Following arrest, he admitted charges of being concerned in the supply of each substance.
Appearing at Westminster Crown Court on Monday 20 November, he was jailed for a total of 18 years.
Detective Inspector Yoni Adler, of our Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said:
"Criminals like Stirling felt able to let their guard down when using this network, feeling they could operate with impunity as they moved large amounts of harmful substances into Essex."
Middleman ‘thought he was shielded from view’
Another man was sentenced to more than six years in prison for his role in the supply of illegal drugs across Essex.
Peter Moran, 50, of Feering Road, Billericay, was a facilitator who acted as a go-between for suppliers of controlled drugs including cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis.
Another EncroChat user, Moran received images of the drugs that dealers wanted to sell before finding them buyers.
He would make between £250 and £500 for helping to move a kilogram of cocaine, and made £2,000 having helped to sell 20kg of cannabis.
Our specialist officers with the Serious and Organised Crime Unit found Moran had been involved in the supply of around 72kg of cannabis.
The investigation began in 2020, with a warrant executed at his home in 2021.
Through their investigation, officers found his encrypted phone and £14,000 in cash hidden in a compartment under his oven.
He appeared at court in January 2023 where he admitted to charges of conspiracy to supply a Class A drug, three counts of conspiracy to supply a Class B drug, conspiring to transfer criminal property and two counts of failing to comply with a serious crime prevention order.
Moran was sentenced to six years and eight months imprisonment in July 2023.
Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Sergeant David Crane said:
“Moran thought his part in this criminal enterprise would be shielded from view, allowing him to make considerable ill-gotten profit. “He was wrong. Our thorough and persistent investigation into his actions left him with little choice but to admit to his role as a career criminal, and he will now spend another considerable term behind bars to contemplate his life choices.”
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