Officers from the Organised Crime Partnership – a joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service unit – established that Patrick Ince, 57, from Dartford in Kent, was using encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to oversee the enterprise.
Operation Venetic is the UK law enforcement response to the takedown of the EncroChat service.
Ince’s group sourced and distributed more than 150 kilos of cocaine and handled approximately £4.5 million in associated cash. They also supplied smaller quantities of ketamine throughout south east England.
Five members have already been jailed for a total of 68 years, which can now be revealed after reporting restrictions were lifted.
All but one were found to have used EncroChat devices to aid their criminality.
Ince and fellow group member Mark Eldridge, 53, from West Wickham in Kent, employed trusted couriers Anthony Smith, 77, from Greenhithe in Kent and Michael Kelleher of Plumstead (now deceased).
They also supplied drugs to Berkshire-based dealers William James, 35, from Crowthorne, and Richard Wilmot, 42, of Ascot.
Nathan Matheson, 35, from Bracknell, was also identified as a trusted courier and store person for James.
Smith was ordered by Ince and Eldridge via EncroChat to deliver £2 million worth of cocaine and £127,000 in cash to other criminals across London, Essex, Birmingham, Cornwall and Glasgow.
He was known on Ince’s contacts list as ‘Stan Hill’, which is believed to refer to the two having met at HMP Standford Hill in 2013, while incarcerated for drug supply offences.
Between them, James and Wilmot supplied £3.5 million worth of cocaine in London and Berkshire, as well as 15 kilos of ketamine, worth a potential £600,000 to dealers.
The pair also laundered over £1 million in cash linked to the supply of those drugs.
All of the men were arrested at their home addresses on 21 April last year with the exception of Ince, who went on the run, and Smith who was in prison on remand for other offences.
Ince was arrested on 28 October, after being located in the Plumsted area.
All were later charged with conspiracy to supply controlled drugs and acquire criminal property.
Wilmot and James pleaded guilty at Kingston Crown Court on 24 May, Eldridge on 17 September and Ince on 28 February this year. Matheson and Smith were convicted on 10 December following a three-week trial at the same court.
On 25 January this year Eldridge, Wilmot, James, Smith and Matheson were sentenced to a total of 68 years in prison. Ince was jailed for 20 years today (7 April).
Andrew Tickner, from the Organised Crime Partnership, said:
“Patrick Ince, along with his right-hand man Mark Eldridge, arranged the movement of cocaine worth tens of millions of pounds.
“The tentacles of their gang stretched across the UK, enabling drugs to seep into communities where they would drive high levels of violence and intimidation.
“Our investigation tore this organised crime group apart and in doing so removed a significant wholesale supplier for dealers across the country.”