Encrochat hack shines a light on Huyton’s sinister underworld

The police operation that penetrated a phone network used by established drug gangs has targeted several individuals linked to serious crime in the Huyton area.

Encrochat was the specialist phone network used by criminals across Europe to sell drugs, guns and plan their activities.

But a covert operation by police in France and Holland managed to hack into the encrypted system, providing police across Europe with access to messages between serious criminals.

The penetration, known in the UK as Operation Venetic, has led to over 83 arrests on Merseyside. The force has also recovered loaded firearms and seized of 44 kg of cocaine, 11 kg of cannabis and £1.3 million in cash.

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The National Crime Agency recently announced that the UK Operation Venetic has led to 1,550 arrests, the seizure of criminal cash worth over £56m and the recovery of 115 guns. Over 5000 kgs of Class A drugs had been seized too.

However the ECHO is aware that Operation Venetic has had a particularly disruptive impact on Huyton's underworld.

And over recent recent months a number of well known drug dealers from the Huyton area have been jailed as a result of the Encrochat hack.

The underworld is rife with rumours and speculation about the number of well known criminals in the Huyton area who have been compromised by Operation Venetic.

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Michael Townsend

Townsend, of Grant Road in Huyton, supplied bulk quantities of cannabis to other dealers across the city.

The dealer who used the handle " SacredMask" on the Encrochat network was jailed for six years during a hearing a Liverpool Crown Court last month.

The 26-year-old was convicted of conspiracy to supply cannabis and acquire/use/possess criminal property.

Senior officers welcomed the prison sentence handed down to Townsend. Speaking after the sentencing Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson said: "Townsend was supplying multi-kilo amounts of cannabis and generating vast profits in doing so. He will now perhaps take time to reflect on the risks he took and the harm he caused, while serving a significant jail term.

Michael Townsend, 26, of Grant Road in Huyton

“Townsend, like many others, thought that by using encrypted devices they could evade justice. He was wrong, and he won’t be last to realise this."

Shaun Done

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Done, of Beech Road , Huyton, moved drugs and cash around the city for a local drug gang.

The gang provided Done with an Encrochat phone and the 25-year-old used the handle 'NuttyLeopard' on the Encrochat network.

When police caught up with him they discovered he had over £27,000 stashed in his Huyton home – some of which he stored in dirty washing baskets.

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During a hearing at Liverpool Crown Court last month prosecutor Charles Lander, described the important role Done played in the gang.

Mr Lander said Done was "clearly a highly trusted member in the hierarchy of these conspiracies" who attended safe houses that belonged to a criminal gang.

Julian Nutter defending, told the court how Done came to have an expensive Encrochat phone.

Mr Nutter said: "The people who sat behind him, who controlled him, who gave him that Encrochat phone, trusted him to move substantial amounts of drugs.

"They are not people to meddle with. With that trust comes increasing fear."

Shaun Done, 25, of Homestead Close, Huyton, would transport cocaine, cannabis and cash around Merseyside while operating as a taxi driver

Done admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply cannabis and conspiracy to acquire/use/possess criminal property.

Judge Robert Trevor-Jones, sentencing, described Done as "a highly trusted member of the conspiracy" and jailed him for seven years and nine months.

Thomas Brabbins

Brabbins tried to jump out a bedroom window while he was naked after police raided his home on Cherry Tree Road in Huyton.

Brabbins, who used the handle 'coastalsummer' on the Encrochat network to sell cocaine and cannabis across the city.

Police raided Brabbins' Huyton home on June 14 last year, which is when the drug dealer tried to make his naked escape.

Police discovered £36,585 in cash, two Rolex watches believed to be worth £10,000, cannabis worth up to £47,373, tick lists and a vacuum sealing machine.

The drug dealer was later released under investigation.

Thomas Brabbins, 28, of Cherry Tree Road, Huyton, was caught naked trying to escape from his home during a police raid.

But on November 12 police stopped his BMW 4×4 and he was caught with three mobile phones and more than £2,000 in cash.

Brabbins ,28, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, cannabis, possession with intent to supply cannabis, two counts of acquiring criminal property and possession of cannabis.

The Huyton drug dealer was jailed for seven and a half years during a hearing at Liverpool Crown Court last month.

Jordan Hughes

Hughes lived out a comfortable life style complete with expensive cars and foreign holidays but did not have a proper job.

The 30-year-old dad drove around in a Mercedes SUV and even had an extension carried out on his home on Holly Grove in Roby.

Hughes did business on the Encrochat network, using the handle 'SnowEmu'

The 30-year-old even took his family on a six-week summer holiday to Spain, all thanks to his deals with other criminals going by handles including "JurgenNeverStops" and "AlissonBecker".

But Hughes was a top end cocaine dealer, selling one and two kilo batches of cocaine across the city.

Jordan Hughes, 30, of Holly Grove, Roby

Hughes did most of his business on the Encro network, in the mistaken belief that he was operating in secrecy.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Hughes was buying and selling kilos of cocaine and often enjoyed a discount.

Police said that this suggested that Hughes was operating within the 'top rung' of the hierarchy.

Hughes later admitted conspiring to supply cocaine and heroin, ahead of a trial.

Recorder of Liverpool Judge Andrew Menary QC said he was satisfied Hughes played a "leading role" in the conspiracy and jailed the Huyton man for 12 years.

Liverpool's courts are some of the busiest in the UK, with a huge variety of cases being heard each week.

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Police keen to build on success of Operation Venetic

In January Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley said that the force was determined to capitalise on the success of Operation Venetic.

He said: “Operation Venetic is a massive regional, national and international investigation, and one which we firmly believe will continue to have a hugely positive impact on the serious and organised crime landscape.

"We’ll share each and every success as these offences begin to move through the courts.

“As part of Operation Venetic, Merseyside Police has so far arrested more than 60 people, of which 35 have been charged with serious drug trafficking or firearms offences.

"This year will see a number of these people appearing for trial or sentence.

“We have also seized around 45 kilos of Class A drugs, £1.3 million in cash and recovered three firearms with ammunition. We’re working closely alongside our partners in the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) in these and other investigations.

“We continue to identify and detain those who seek to evade justice, regardless of their locations, and we’ll continue to use all available powers and work alongside our law enforcement partners to bring to justice criminals who impact on our communities and beyond.

"This work includes wanted appeals here and elsewhere, and partnership work with all available agencies."

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