War on Mr Bigs running crime in Liverpool from luxury homes abroad

Police believe they are winning the long war with the overseas crime bosses who sponsor violence on the streets of Merseyside.

Senior officers have described the hacking of the EncroChat messaging system as a "game changer" in their battle with the region's organised crime groups.

The penetration of the encrypted system has allowed police to see the secret messages sent by criminals as they discuss drugs, guns and murder plots.

The EncroChat breakthrough , known to police as Operation Venetic, has also brought into focus the so called "Mr Bigs" who control crime on Merseyside from the safety of villas and hotel suites in Amsterdam, Marbella and Dubai.

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Senior officers have said that some of these criminals are responsible for stabbings, shootings and the exploitation of children working in County Lines drug gangs.

From Curtis Warren in the 1990s to Liam Cornett, the ECHO has long reported on the demise of criminals who controlled organised crime groups from the seeming safety of overseas boltholes.

Warren ran his operation from a farmhouse in the Dutch countryside while Cornett, very much the next generation in organised crime, was based in Spain. Cornett, who grew up on the streets of north Liverpool, was jailed for 26 years earlier this year for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley told the ECHO that although the business model of organised crime had changed since the 90s, in essence it was the same.

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He said: "We are still talking about the same types of people. They are bullies who use people to sell drugs. They trade in fear and violence to get what they want.

"We know some of these people are linked to the misery of crime we see on Merseyside – from children being exploited in County Lines drug gangs to stabbings and shootings. The very highest levels of violence."

Curtis Warren before his appearance at the Royal Court in St Hellier, Jersey in 2009

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Green, head of the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, spoke to the ECHO about the long war with men who controlled crime across the region.

He said: "Organised crime groups use hierarchical structures and we often see individuals who rise through the ranks and then choose to live overseas. But this is in no way unique to Merseyside.

"We see people at the top of these structures who have the ability to try and control the minds of other, possibly younger, criminals.

"But my message to these people is simple. Leaving Merseyside does not make you untouchable.

"If anything, Operation Venetic has shown how close our ties are with other forces across Europe and with international bodies such as Interpol."

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He said that such individuals were still "very much on the radar", adding: "We have seen so many success stories of these kinds of people being arrested overseas and being brought back to the UK to face justice.

"They might be out of sight but not out of our reach."

Jayne Lloyd, the National Crime Agency's (NCA) head of investigations for the North, said that the movement of criminals overseas represented a change in the way organised crime worked.

She said: "In the 1990s the individuals who controlled organised crime locally would be based in the North West. But this began to change and people who rose through the hierarchy would move overseas.

"This was partly a response to increased police surveillance and activity. They sit above a layer of lieutenants, many of whom they have known since childhood."

Ms Lloyd agreed that the people at the top were utterly ruthless.

She said: "They don't care when subordinates disappear – they are just replaced."

A crime scene in Liverpool

ACC Critchley stressed that the reality of organised crime was devoid of glamour.

He said: "Speak to my officers who have taken part in raids over recent weeks as part of Operation Venetic. Homes where there are firearms, drugs and dangerous dogs. That is the reality of crime in our city."

ACC Critchley had a message for the so called "untouchables" from Merseyside now resident overseas.

He said: "Look at Liam Cornett. His organised crime group was linked to County Lines drugs and firearms. The very long custodial sentence handed to him is what is facing his contemporaries."

And ACC Green also acknowledged that the information accessed through EncroChat had allowed the force to arrest and charge individuals who seemed beyond their reach in the past.

He said: " There have been certain individuals who have been active in criminality for decades. Yes it's been frustrating having the intelligence that people are involved in organised crime but not having the evidence. Some of these people traded in fear, violence and immorality as part of their existence.

"We are talking about very destructive people with no respect for anything .

"Their only purpose in life appears to have been greed.

"Fortunately, it now appears that they are no longer beyond the law.

"And when they are hopefully convicted we will continue to target the full reach of their criminality.

"We will look to target the assets they have accrued over time.

"I have confidence the courts can deliver justice and that our community can recover from these people.

"Lets's remember, we are talking about a handful of people who create misery for the many.

"We will be working hard with all the decent people out there to make all of our communities safer and stronger."

Anyone with information about organised crime on Merseyside should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111