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Hundreds arrested across Essex and London as criminal instant messaging platform is cracked

PUBLISHED: 16:02 02 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:53 06 July 2020

Officers have seized more than £13.4million in cash - £5m of this in one operation alone. This is the largest single cash seizure the Met police has ever made. Picture: Essex Police

Officers have seized more than £13.4million in cash - £5m of this in one operation alone. This is the largest single cash seizure the Met police has ever made. Picture: Essex Police

Essex Police

Murder plots have been foiled and some of London’s most dangerous criminals arrested in a joint operation against a criminal instant messaging platform.

During another operation drugs and £80,000 in cash were discovered when officers executed a warrant in Hullbridge on May 23. Picture: Essex PoliceDuring another operation drugs and £80,000 in cash were discovered when officers executed a warrant in Hullbridge on May 23. Picture: Essex Police

The bust has led to 746 arrests across London and Essex and the largest single cash seizure the Met police has ever made.

EncroChat was one of the largest providers of encrypted communications and offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service, but an international law enforcement team cracked the company’s encryption.

There were 60,000 users worldwide and 1,400 in London. The sole use was for co-ordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.

In addition, a specialist National Crime Agency (NCA) team, working closely with Essex Police and the Metropolitan Police has prevented rival gangs carrying out kidnappings and executions on the UK’s streets by successfully mitigating more than 200 threats to life.

The phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make calls and a kill code which wipes them remotely – cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract. Picture: Essex PoliceThe phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make calls and a kill code which wipes them remotely – cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract. Picture: Essex Police

A total of 99 people have been charged so far, and officers have seized more than £13.4million in cash - £5m of this in one operation alone. This is the largest single cash seizure the Met police has ever made.

Met officers recovered 16 firearms, including Scorpion submachine guns and revolvers, seized more than 500 rounds of ammunition, 37 encrypted devices, 620kgs of Class A drugs and 19kgs of Class B drugs.

Those arrested under one investigation were identified as being part of the most high-harm Organised Crime Group (OCG) in London, with long-standing links to violent crime and the importation of Class A drugs.

The central figures of this group lead lavish lifestyles and live in multi-million pound properties with access to top of the range vehicles, appearing to be successful, respectable business people but are dangerous individuals, say Met police.

Murder plots have been foiled and some of London’s most dangerous criminals arrested in a joint operation against a criminal instant messaging platform. Picture: Essex PoliceMurder plots have been foiled and some of London’s most dangerous criminals arrested in a joint operation against a criminal instant messaging platform. Picture: Essex Police

The most highly trained firearms officers and sophisticated tactics were deployed to arrest them at their addresses.

Another investigation resulting from the messaging service bust has brought to light the link between international organised crime and serious violence across London. It focused on an OCG spanning the UK, Europe and UAE involved in the importation and distribution of cocaine and firearms. The network was actively supplying drugs to street gangs and causing serious violence on the streets of London.

In June, detectives identified a plan by this OCG to shoot and kill a member of a rival group. Their investigation meant they were able to take action to prevent this. An individual was arrested for conspiracy to murder, and a loaded pistol - believed to be the planned murder weapon - was seized from an associated search of an address.

From Essex Police raids, a discovery of 138kg of cocaine and 8kg of heroin, with a combined street value of £20 million was found in a lorry at the Port of Harwich on June 1.

From Essex Police raids, a discovery of 138kg of cocaine and 8kg of heroin, with a combined street value of £20 million was found in a lorry at the Port of Harwich on June 1. Picture: Essex PoliceFrom Essex Police raids, a discovery of 138kg of cocaine and 8kg of heroin, with a combined street value of £20 million was found in a lorry at the Port of Harwich on June 1. Picture: Essex Police

During another operation drugs and £80,000 in cash were discovered when officers executed a warrant in Hullbridge on May 23.

On June 13 EncroChat realised the platform had been penetrated and sent a message to its users urging them to throw away their handsets.

The phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make calls and a kill code which wipes them remotely – have no other conventional smart phone functionality and cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.

The NCA created the technology and specialist data exploitation capabilities required to process the EncroChat data, and help identify and locate offenders by analysing millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of images.


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