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Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Notts Police and national partners work to jail men after at least £300,000 worth of drugs brought into county

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A high-level drug trafficker and two couriers have been jailed in the first sentencing in Nottinghamshire involving a police infiltration of 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 a 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 Nottinghamshire.

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REHAB BEAUTY

It led to the capture of David Martin who was a highly-placed member of a criminal drug dealing organisation – no lower in rank than just one place below the “Mr Big” of the operation.

The messages sent by David Martin included a boast of having done £1million worth of business with his suppliers in Liverpool. During the Coronavirus lockdown, he discussed borrowing an ambulance to transport the drugs and dressing women up as nurses to bypass the restrictions.

The 42-year-old was trusted by other high-level suppliers who gave him £395,000 in credit – and he told people he was too senior to take the risk of touching the drugs himself.

Martin played a leading role in arranging for regular multi-kilo consignments of Class A drugs – mainly cocaine and heroin – to be brought to Nottingham from Liverpool.

His role involved him negotiating the supply of those consignments of drugs, arranging cash payments for the drugs, recruiting and managing couriers and overseeing the logistics.

Two of the couriers he recruited, Lee Bennett, 30, and Jamie Wilkinson, 45, were also taken own  by police as part of the investigation.

Martin sent them to Liverpool to collect the drugs and make payments on his behalf. On one single journey, 5kg of cocaine and 2kg of heroin to the value of £300,000 was brought into Nottinghamshire.

The complex police investigation involved analysing communications over the EncroChat system between Martin and others, using automatic number plate recognition cameras to establish journeys were taken and marry that up with the locations of devices at the time.

The enquiry found Martin operated through EncroChat using a “handle” nickname of Steelwhale to arrange the purchase of controlled drugs between 31 March and 8 June 2020.

EncroChat users were warned in June 2020 that the system had been compromised and were advised to dispose of their phones immediately.

Martin instructed Bennett to pick up a replacement upgraded device on 18 June 2020 and he was arrested upon his return. The device, along with the passcode, were recovered in Bennett’s vehicle and a police dog used to search the vehicle gave a positive indication that drugs had been in the car.

Searches of their home address and Martin’s Ultimate Gym in Hucknall were later executed, resulting in Martin’s arrest.

The men – who were each described as “links in a chain of wholesale supply of drugs” – accepted responsibility for their roles organising the logistical movement of drugs on a wholesale scale when they each entered a guilty plea to conspiring to supply Class A drugs – cocaine and heroin.

Martin, formerly of Third Avenue, Rainworth, was jailed for nine years at Nottingham Crown Court today (Thursday 22 April).

Wilkinson, of Ash Crescent in Nuthall, was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Bennett, of Kenbrook Road in Hucknall, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

The prosecution also told the court that it intended to make an application to recover the proceeds of Martins’ crimes.

Detective Sergeant Emma Pollard, of Nottinghamshire Police, led the investigation. She 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.

“We’ll continue our work to combat drug dealing and welcome any information from members of the public about this issue, please call us on 101.”

The case has been hailed as a massive breakthrough for the force as until recently law enforcement was unable to access the separate operation system and the content within the messages in encrypted phone networks.

Detective Superintendent Mike Allen, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “This is the first of a raft of Operation Venetic cases where our force’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit have worked jointly with the National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service as a response to the takedown of an encrypted global communication service known as EncroChat.

“The service was exclusively used by criminals who have for a long time communicated freely thinking the platform was secure.

“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.”