Thousands of criminal operations have been thwarted and notorious kingpins have been rounded-up in Britain’s biggest ever crime-busting operation, it can be revealed today.
British law enforcement agencies have seized guns, drugs, and millions in cash after dropping the net on organised crime groups across the UK.
They say suspected “Mr Bigs” have been arrested, criminal gangs that have been “untouchable” for years have been broken up, and more than 200 murder plots have been thwarted in an international law enforcement operation on an unprecedented scale.
The secret operation began in April with the infiltration of a secure criminal messaging service – EncroChat – which is popular among criminals for organising the importation and trade of huge amounts of guns and drugs.
Echoing TV show The Wire, police were able to see messages as they directly implicated crime gang bosses in their own illegal operations.
The National Crime Agency, working with police forces around the UK and a network of foreign law enforcement agencies, say they have “punched huge holes” in crime groups, with kidnaps and gangland executions thwarted, the seizure of 77 guns including an AK47 rifle and sub-machine guns, grenades, two tonnes of drugs, and more than £54 million in criminal cash as well as luxury cars and designer watches.
“This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime”, said Nikki Holland, director of investigations at the NCA, likening it to having an “inside person” at every crime group in the country.
The bust is understood to be more significant than the operation to shut down the infamous Silk Road trade of illegal goods on the Dark Web.
“We’ve protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them”, said Ms Holland.
Today’s announcement came after three months of intensive investigations, watching the Encrochat messages between criminals and swooping on major players when they could be linked directly to drugs, guns, or mountains of criminal cash.
The secure messaging service was infiltrated in France and The Netherlands, with results shared with law enforcement in the UK and Interpol.
The NCA believes around 10,000 EncroChat devices – 20 per cent of the worldwide total – are in use in Britain, offering a “platform completely for criminal purposes”.
The devices are custom-made and cost £1,500 for just six months of use, offering what was believed to be a secure messaging service that was impenetrable to law enforcement.
The service boasted of devices that had been “specially tailored to harden security”, guaranteeing users anonymity, automatically deleted messages, and a full wipe of the data if anyone tried to hack the device.
EncroChat realised the service had been infiltrated in mid-June, but the police operations around Europe were able to continue as crime groups were unaware how deeply their messages were compromised.
Panicked criminals continued sending messages on the devices, saying the police and the NCA “are winning” and “having a field day.”
Today’s announcement has been co-ordinated with agencies around Europe, after they delayed publicity to maximise the number of arrests.
“By dismantling these groups, we have saved countless lives and protected communities across the UK”, said National Police Chiefs Council lead for serious organised crime, Chief Constable Steve Jupp.
Home Secretary Priti Patel added: “This operation demonstrates that criminals will not get away with using encrypted devices to plot vile crimes under the radar.
“The NCA’s relentless targeting of these gangs has helped to keep us all safe. I congratulate them and law enforcement partners on this significant achievement.”
The NCA said 746 suspects have been arrested, while 77 firearms, two tonnes of drugs, more than £54m in cash, more than 28 million Valium pills, 55 luxury card and 73 designer watches have been seized.
An operation has also been underway to target the people supplying the Encrochat devices.