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Britain's biggest ever crime bust sees 746 arrested after 'WhatsApp for criminals' Encrochat infiltrated

Britain's biggest ever crime bust has seen 746 people arrested and £54 million of dirty cash, two tonnes of drugs and 77 firearms seized - including 28 million pills from a Rochester lab.

It comes after the Met Police and National Crime Agency worked with forces across the UK and Europe to infiltrate EncroChat, a WhatsApp for criminals which had 60,000 users including 10,000 in this country.

NCA and Met officers found the lab last month

The pill factory in Rochester
The pill factory in Rochester
The pill factory in Rochester
The pill factory in Rochester
The pill factory in Rochester
The pill factory in Rochester

Investigators in France and the Netherlands were finally able to penetrate the military-grade system after a four-year operation and their work has resulted in murder plots being foiled and the arrests of "iconic" underworld 'Mr Bigs' who thought they were "untouchable".

Six people were arrested after the raid on the Rochester drugs factory on June 12 and the £14 million haul of Etizolam tablets - known as street valium and destined for Scotland - was seized.

Elsewhere £650,000 was seized at an address in the county and in April five people were arrested after 24.5kg of cocaine worth more than £2.4m and £213,000 in cash was discovered in Gravesend.

Later that month a person linked to a plot to smuggle cocaine from South America to the UK on board a cruise ship was arrested at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Folkestone.

The operation foiled more than 200 'threats to life' and also saw dozens of luxury watches and high-value cars seized from kingpins living in luxury.

A scorpion sub machine gun
A scorpion sub machine gun

EncroChat was run from outside the UK and cost £1,500 for a six-month contract, providing users with an encrypted handset.

It was cracked two months ago but it was only in mid-June the operators realised, telling customers to dispose of their devices immediately.

Messages including "we have a big problem" and "the police are having a field day followed" and the servers have since been shut down.

Since then there have been arrests for crimes including conspiracy to murder and supplying drugs and firearms including an AK47 and a Scorpion sub machine gun have been taken off the streets.

Just over the border in Purfleet, Essex, 280kg of pressed cocaine worth £10m was found in May due to the operation.

280kg of cocaine found at Purfleet, Essex
280kg of cocaine found at Purfleet, Essex

Back in Kent police stopped three men in Station Road, Strood on April 28 and seized £23,000 and a large quantity of cocaine. Ross Harland, 33, 34-year-old James Dean and 31-year-old Billy Peters were arrested and charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs and possession of criminal property.

Harland and Dean, both of Station Road, have been remanded in custody and Peters, of Eltham Green Road, Eltham, has been released on bail. They are due to appear at Maidstone Crown Court on September 21.

On June 19 James Morphew, 35, was arrested at his home in Hawthorn Road, Strood, in connection with the same incident. He was charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs and has been remanded in custody to appear at Maidstone Crown Court on July 17.

In Thanet community officers searched an address in Surrey Road, Margate on April 30. Five people were arrested after patrols discovered a sawn-off shotgun and a large quantity of heroin. More than £10,000, 200 deals of cocaine and cannabis were also seized.

William Cairns, 64, Ashley Cairns, 32 and Phillip Gibson, 19, all of Surrey Road, along with Jordan Bourton, 20, of Edgar Road, Cliftonville, and a 17-year-old boy from Margate have been charged with two counts of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs, one count of being concerned in the supply of class B drugs and possession of criminal property.

Ashley Cairns, Gibson, Bourton and the 17-year-old have also been charged with possessing a prohibited firearm. The four men have been remanded in custody and the teenager has been released on bail all awaiting a trial.

Officers in Dover stopped a vehicle in Mongeham Road, Deal on May 9. There was more than £300,000 in the boot along with a Taser.

Ricky Lewis, 35, of Wakehurst Drive, Crawley, was charged with possession of criminal cash and a homemade Taser. He has been remanded in custody and is next due to appear at Canterbury Crown Court on July 20.

In total £54 million was found
In total £54 million was found

NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland, said: “The infiltration is like having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country.

“This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime.

“The NCA is proud to have led the UK part of this operation, working in partnership with policing and other agencies. The results have been outstanding but this is just the start.

“Together with our partners 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.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This operation demonstrates that criminals will not get away with using encrypted devices to plot vile crimes under the radar."

Met officers storm a house - no live ammo was fired

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here.


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