Guns, drugs and cash found after police infiltrated phone network

An astonishing gallery of photos today reveals a snapshot of the criminality exposed in the last month by police busting a global serious organised crime network which had well-established tentacles around Merseyside.

Detectives in the county are hailing a hugely successful last four weeks during which suspected notorious criminals – trading in gun and Class A drug supply – have been taken off the streets.

The past 24 hours have seen details emerge of how Merseyside Police, along with enforcement squads in the UK and abroad, dismantled illegal top-level gangs that thought they were "untouchable."

The victory, which came to a head in June, followed computer experts busting a once-secret phone network, loved by gangsters and their gophers.

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The EncroChat system, favoured because of its supposed inability to be traced, was hacked by IT professionals working for police across the UK and Europe, and it suddenly gave investigators a first-hand glance into thousands of criminals' dirty operations.

But crucially, it enabled officers to be ready for their next move and be led to their lairs where stashes of firearms, cocaine, cannabis and pills, were hidden from plain sight.

Anfield drugs seizure
Anfield drugs seizure

Today, the ECHO can details some of the most significant seizures obtained by police on Merseyside during recent months which has left suspected criminals captured and facing prosecution.

And a gallery of pictures, including guns, Class A substances, drug factory equipment, holdalls stuffed with cash, and luxury items like boxes of designer shoes, demonstrated how the most serious level of crime in the region has been dealt a massive blow.

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That includes photos of three guns, secreted in the loft of a home, empty when police raided it this week, on John Bagot Close in Everton.

Those weapons – a Ruger 9mm handgun, a Beretta shotgun and a revolver and ammunition – will be forensically examined.

In total, over a period of about a month, police in Merseyside arrested more than 30 people, recovered more than £2m in cash, 25 kilos of Class A drugs, 450 cannabis plants, 28 kilos of Class B drugs and 1.5 tonnes of mixing agents.

On Wednesday alone, five early morning warrants were executed in locations including Melling, Halewood and Anfield.

Anfield designer shoes seized
The huge cocaine haul hidden in children's toys when a delivery was made to a house while police were already searching it

Three men, one in his 50s from Melling, and two men, in their 30s, from Anfield, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply guns, cocaine and cannabis.

Further details now available include a case in Crosby and Garston, where 8kgs of Class A drugs, potentially worth more than £600,000, were seized, along with £76,000 cash, leading to the arrest of a man and a woman.

In Huyton, 20kg of cannabis, equivalent to about £100,000, was recovered and a man arrested following a house warrant.

In Dovecot, heroin was discovered leading to a man being interviewed under caution, and in Kirkby, a woman was arrested for money laundering after a £50,000 cash seizure.

Warrants were executed in Bowring Park with £12,500 being seized together with a large quantity of cannabis.

In West Derby, evidence of drug dealing was found and £100,000 worth of assets was confiscated.

Vauxhall cash seizure
The huge cocaine haul hidden in children's toys when a delivery was made to a house while police were already searching it

In Bootle, a man and woman were arrested after £16,000 was seized and large amounts of suspected Class A drugs, along with £16,000 cash.

Again in West Derby, about £100,000 in cash was found and some high value assets, leading to the arrest of a woman for money laundering.

In Everton, £500,000 was seized and a man arrested for money laundering.

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In Mossley Hill, over £100,000 of assets were seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, together with class A drugs, and a man and woman were arrested.

In Huyton, 11 kilos of Class A drugs, some cannabis, and evidence of supply was uncovered, along with £1,000 cash, which triggered the arrest of seven people.

And at an industrial unit in Aintree, 6kgs of class B drugs were recovered, along with 1.5 tonnes of precursor chemicals which would allow criminals to manufacture significantly higher quantities.

Guns found by police in Everton
Guns found by police in Everton

Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley said: “Merseyside Police has always stood firm in its promise to tackle serious and organised crime and we have a proven track record in dealing with individuals who are responsible for the wholesale supply of illegal drugs both locally and across the country, as well as the use of violence, quite often involving gun and knife crime, to protect their business interests.

“In the last decade crime trends have changed significantly and we need to ensure that we move with the times so that we can effectively deal with those responsible for serious and organised crime on our streets.

“We have seen a trend amongst Merseyside criminals with the use of encrypted devices in a bid to evade detection, but the activity we have been involved with in recent weeks with the National Crime Agency and the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and crime enforcement partners in Europe shows that nobody is infallible and we have the ability to come together and hit the criminals hard.

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“Serious organised crime has a profound negative impact on our communities, whether it be through the drugs and violence that bring misery to our streets, the guns that can seriously injure or kill, cyber-crime which can infiltrate people's homes, or the exploitation of our vulnerable members of the community, particularly children involved in County Lines.

Police seizures as part of the European wide bust on EncroChat-linked crime
Police seizures as part of the European wide bust on EncroChat-linked crime

“This operation was made possible after UK law enforcement, working with partners in Europe, was able to take down a bespoke encrypted global communication service used exclusively by criminals.

“They mistakenly thought that by using the secure mobile instant messaging service EncroChat that they were untouchable, but unbeknown to them an international law enforcement team had cracked the company’s encryption and law enforcement agencies across the UK and Europe were monitoring their every move.

“As a result 60,000 users were identified worldwide and about 10,000 of them were in the UK and the use of the encryption service was purely for coordinating and planning the supply and distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activity.

Aigburth cash seizure
A gun recovered in Everton

“This is the biggest operation of its kind in the UK and today Merseyside, as well as other forces areas around the UK, is safer as a result of the activity that has taken place in recent weeks.

“I can also reassure the communities of Merseyside that the force will continue its fight against those involved in serious organised crime to make our communities safer.”

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Green, head of the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit said: “Our mission is to protect our communities through targeting those who are involved in all aspects of organised crime including the distribution and supply of illegal drugs and the use of serious violence.

"Across the northwest, we have been working flat out with our local forces and the NCA to assess and interpret the intelligence and to identify opportunities to take enforcement action and also to safeguard and mitigate risks of serious violence.

“As a result of this operation we have seen more than 93 people arrested across the North West for various offences including drugs and firearms supply and money laundering.

"More than £3.6m in cash has been recovered, along with 54 kilos of Class A drugs, 24 kilos of Class B drugs, 10 firearms and 220 rounds of ammunition.”

Jayne Lloyd, NCA Head of Investigations for the North, said: “Operation Venetic is the broadest and most significant coordinated assault on UK organised crime groups ever seen."

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“Criminals who believed they were operating anonymously in the shadows of technology, have and are still being exposed, this is causing criminals grave concern.

“Together with our partners in the UK and abroad, we have protected the public by arresting those who thought they were untouchable as they conducted their illegal activities within our communities.”