Suspected criminal gangs disrupted in Kent after police forces intercept encrypted phones



More than £330,000 in cash, around £40,000 worth of class A drugs and a sawn-off shotgun have been seized in Kent as part of an international operation to tackle serious and organised crime.


Kent Police has been working closely with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other policing partners where, overall, thousands of individuals have been identified as being involved in organised crime across the UK and Europe.


A bespoke encrypted global mobile communication service called EncroChat, used exclusively by suspected criminals, has been shut down after UK law enforcement cracked the company’s encryption. 


The NCA has reported there were 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK – the sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.


As a result of the collaborative work, detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate were able to make arrests and several people have been charged with drugs-related offences.


Conspiracy to supply drugs


Kent Police stopped three men in Station Road, Strood on 28 April 2020 and seized £23,000 in cash and a large quantity of cocaine. The three men, 33-year-old Ross Harland, 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.


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


On 19 June a fourth man, 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 17 July.


Drugs, cash and a weapon seized


A search warrant was carried out by the Thanet Community Policing Team at an address in Surrey Road, Margate on 30 April. Five people were arrested at the property after patrols discovered a sawn-off shotgun and a large quantity of heroin. Over £10,000 in cash, 200 deals of cocaine and cannabis were also seized.


William Cairns, 64, Ashley Cairns, 32 and Phillip Gibson, 19, all of Surrey Road in Margate 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, Mr Gibson, Mr Bourton and the 17-year-old boy 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.


Cash in boot


Officers from the Community Policing Team in Dover stopped a suspicious vehicle in Mongeham Road, Deal on 9 May. There was more than £300,000 in cash in the boot of the car along with a Taser.


Ricky Lewis, 35 of Wakehurst Drive in Crawley was arrested and charged with possession of criminal property, namely cash, and possession of a weapon, namely a homemade Taser. He has been remanded in custody and is next due to appear at Canterbury Crown Court on 20 July 2020.


Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Richards said: ‘This international operation has been the biggest and most significant of its kind in the UK and is a great example of excellent partnership work.


‘There will always be a determined, sustained and co-ordinated focus by Kent Police on the activity of any criminal gang, with robust and rigorous enforcement.


‘Working with our partners, we are continuing to crack down hard on those trying to sell drugs and who criminally exploit the vulnerable, which can have a devastating impact on our communities.


‘We take a zero-tolerance approach to gang-related crime and work continuously with neighbouring forces to target known offenders. If you are planning to commit crime there is a very high chance we already know who you are and our officers will arrest you.’