A Kent man told police "you have caught me red handed" when officers found him printing cash and seized what is thought to be the largest haul of counterfeit currency in UK history.
Phillip Brown, from Longfield, and John Evans, from Esher in Surrey, were jailed for more than 15 years between them at Woolwich Crown Court yesterday, having previously admitted their involvement in a conspiracy to supply more than £12 million worth of counterfeit banknotes.
Their imprisonment follows that of Nick Winter, from Beckenham, who was jailed for six years on Monday, December 21. It resulted from a complex police investigation by specialist detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, supported by the Bank of England and the Counterfeit Currency unit at the National Crime Agency.
Brown, 54, of Ash Road, Longfield, was jailed for six years and six months after he was caught printing the money at an industrial unit owned by Winter, 58, of Elmers End Road, Beckenham; with Brown said to have admitted his involvement on arrest.
Evans, 27, of King George's Walk in Esher, Surrey, was one of the main organisers of the criminal operation and was sentenced to 10 years as a result. He had also pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice for attempting to exert pressure on another man to admit his involvement.
The police investigation into the group’s activities began in January 2019 after the Bank of England identified a new counterfeit £20 note that appeared to have been produced using the type of specialist printing equipment normally used by a company which produces large volumes of magazines or leaflets.
Following several months of inquiries, including mobile phone analysis of those believed to have been involved in its production, a search warrant was carried out at a business premises owned by Winter in Kent House Lane, Beckenham, on Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Inside, officers found Brown and another man surrounded by printing equipment and large piles of counterfeit £20 notes, which were later confirmed as having a total face value of £5.25 million – believed to be the single largest face-value seizure of counterfeit currency in history.
A subsequent search of his home address led to the discovery of a list of names with numbers next to them that added up to 5.25 million – the same value of the counterfeit notes.
Winter had been on holiday in America at the time his business was raided, but was arrested upon his return to the UK on Sunday, May 26, 2019.
One of the names on the list seized from Brown’s home was "John", which is believed to refer to John Evans. Upon his arrest on Friday, September 13, 2019, officers found a highly-encrypted telephone that he later admitted was evidence of criminal activity despite initially denying his involvement in this particular conspiracy.
After all three men had been charged in relation to the conspiracy, further large amounts of counterfeit currency believed to have printed by the group’s members continued to be discovered in the months that followed.
On Wednesday, October 9, 2019, a dog walker found around £5 million worth of fake banknotes dumped in Halt Robin Road, Belvedere. A further £200,940 was found scattered along the railway line between Farningham and Longfield on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, with the Bank of England having already identified and removed around £1.6 million worth from general circulation.
Detective Chief Superintendent Morgan Cronin, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "Counterfeiting directly funds organised crime and hurts the UK economy by creating losses for businesses, which ultimately affects the cost of the things we buy. It also has a direct impact on those who receive fake notes in exchange for goods or services, as what they thought was genuine money is in fact worthless.
"John Evans was one of the main players in what is believed to be the biggest conspiracy of this kind in the history of UK policing, and the length of his sentence reflects the seriousness of the crimes he committed. Phillip Brown and Nick Winter also played vital roles in the operation and are also now behind bars as a result.
Robert Green is a reader in forensic science at the University of Kent
"Organised criminal groups will go to great lengths to obtain expensive homes, fast cars and other luxuries they are not entitled to – even if it means printing the money required themselves. This was a sophisticated operation but one that was ultimately doomed to failure due to the offenders’ mistaken belief that they could carry on undetected.
"I hope this result sends a strong message to others that we have our eyes and ears everywhere, and that ultimately crime does not pay."
Neil Harris, senior officer in the National Crime Agency’s Counterfeit Currency unit, said: "Serious and organised criminals damage the economic health of the UK through their efforts to line their own pockets.
"We supported the operation which dismantled this criminal enterprise and prevented millions of pounds of counterfeit money entering the UK economy. The impact of that counterfeit money would have been felt by unsuspecting members of the public across the UK.
"We remain focused in our work to combat illicit finances, which ultimately help fund further serious and organised crime."