Nottinghamshire detectives hail breakthrough after infiltrating drug gang's encrypted criminal phone network
Nottinghamshire detectives who investigated a high-level drug supply plot involving a former Hucknall gym owner say they ‘are really proud’ to have become one of the first forces to bring a successful prosecution of dealers after infiltrating an encrypted criminal phone network.
EncroChat devices have been favoured by organised crime bosses across Europe for years as they allowed them to communicate secretly without police being able to view their messages – making it difficult to link them to criminal activity.
But following an infiltration of the system by French and Dutch law enforcement, Nottinghamshire Police was able to work alongside the National Crime Agency to use the technique and expose a major drug supply into the county.
It led to the successful capture of former Hucknall gym owner David Martin, 42, of Third Avenue, Rainworth, Lee Bennett, 30, of Kenbrook Road, Hucknall, and James Wilkinson, 45, of Ash Crescent, Nuthall, who were all jailed yesterday at Nottingham Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Martin – described as being just one place below the ‘Mr Big’ of the operation – was jailed for nine years, Wilkinson for four-and-a-half years and Bennett three-and-a-half years.
Now the officers who led the ‘hugely complex’ investigation have welcomed the sentencing handed out to the trio and hailed the ‘massive’ breakthrough for the force.
Det Sgt Emma Pollard, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: "We are really proud to be one of the first forces in the country to bring a successful prosecution of criminals using EncroChat to sentencing - which has resulted in them being locked up.
"It was a hugely complex investigation and prosecution involving Nottinghamshire Police, the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.
"The large amount of credit owed by Martin, to a sum of £395,000, is not just from a one off drug deal. The relationship like that will have been built up over time and a lot of trust and respect on all parts would have been required.
"Within the messages, the men spoke about using women dressed as nurses and even borrowing an ambulance to try and combat the coronavirus restrictions. This showed the lengths that these individuals would go to collect more controlled drugs in readiness for onward supply.
"I'd like to thank the detectives and prosecutors who worked tirelessly on the case. Collectively thousands of hours were spent forensically piecing together all the evidence and this has resulted in disrupting a UK drugs supply chain into Nottinghamshire, ensuring those responsible receive the sentences they so deserve.”
Det Supt Mike Allen said it was the first in a raft of cases where the force’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit has worked jointly with the National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service as a response to the takedown of EncroChat.
"The service was exclusively used by criminals who have for a long time communicated freely thinking the platform was secure,” he said.
"Somewhat miserably for them, international law enforcement had infiltrated EncroChat and defeated the encryption surrounding its instant messaging application.
"Since that time the National Crime Agency and police have been monitoring EncroChat, which has been the communications platform form multiple serious and organised criminal networks.
"Those committing some of the most serious crimes and who have thought of themselves as untouchable have been the authors of their own demise after policing gained access to their criminal marketplace and gathered evidence quietly.
"This case is an example of how Nottinghamshire Police in partnership with the National Crime Agency will relentlessly target drugs traffickers who bring harm to our communities.
"Such criminals deserve to spend their time in prison and whilst they are behind bars they are no longer a menace to the good people of Nottinghamshire.
"Our force is uncompromising in the pursuit of high harm offenders and we will continue with all our effort to place those who blight our society before the courts.”