Organised crime gang jailed

Specialist detectives have taken down an entire organised crime group after seven people were jailed for a total of nearly 56 years.

On the morning of October 7, 2020, officers carried out a series of warrants in the south and west of Essex including in Grays, Wickford, Brentwood, and Canvey Island.

Their targets were a group established in 2019 who had been selling Class A drugs across the county.

During the raids, they seized thousands of pounds in cash as well as drugs and a firearm.

The investigation came out of Op Venetic – a major operation involving the cracking of a bespoke encrypted global communication service, exclusively used by criminals

EncroChat offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service with 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 in the UK.

The primary use was for co-ordinating and planning criminal activities including the distribution of illicit commodities and money laundering.

Since 2016, international law enforcement agencies have worked together to target EncroChat, and other encrypted criminal communications platforms, and in 2020 agencies in France and the Netherlands infiltrated the platform.

The intelligence gleaned through this was then shared via Europol to national law enforcement agencies.

This information helped identify the group led by Michael Read, who liaised with importers and arrange the collection of large quantities of cocaine.

Under him was Mark Gooch, considered the ‘go to man, managing and organising the drug runners as well as having a major involvement in preparing the cocaine and transporting money.

L-r: Craig Phillips and Mark Scarborough

The gang used the EncroChat devices to organise and discuss their activities. Each member went by a specific ‘handle’ or pseudonym.

Read went by ‘Positivity’, and Gooch was known as ‘Firefingers’.

Stephen Hart, who was used to transport cocaine from bigger suppliers, had the handle ‘Interestingheart’, while another handle identified was that of drugs runner Craig Phillips who went by ‘Pinkplumber’.

Cannabis seized from Houghton’ address

A runners –Jeremy Goldner – didn’t use EncroChat , while two other members of the gang – Lisa Warner and Mark Scarborough – didn’t have handles identified or attributed to them.

They ran their operation out of a container within a privately owned and secured yard in Lower Noke Close, Noak Hill.

Messages intercepted by officers from the Serious and Organised Crime Unit included those showing they had paid more than £100,000 for 3kg of cocaine in March or April 2020 and sold it for £180,000.

Other messages showed discussions about arranging the importation and transportation of tens of kilos of cocaine and images of drugs and vacuum packed bags of cash.

During the investigation, different members of the gang were also witnessed carrying out drug deals.

One image showed the palm of someone’s hand holding a white substance. Comparing the image to fingerprints held on the police national computer, it was identified the palm belonged to Stephen Hart.

Following the raids, 11 people were charged and later admitted a series of drugs offences.

At Basildon Crown Court on Thursday February 10 seven of them were jailed for a total of 55 years and eight months.

Two others received suspended prison sentences.

  • Michael Read, 54, of Crouch Road, Grays: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property. 11 years and three months;
  • Mark Gooch, 38, of Sandringham Road, Pilgrims Hatch: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property. Nine years and nine months;
  • Craig Phillips, 44, of Buckles Lane, South Ockendon: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property. Five years and 10 months;
  • Mark Scarborough, 35, of Adams Glade, Rochford: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property. Three years and four months;
  • Stephen Hart, 54, of Thornden Wood Road, Herne Bay: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession with intent to supply Class A drugs, producing Class B drug, and transferring criminal property. Nine years and five months;
  • Perry Revell, 40, of Boundary Lodge, Cratfield, Halesworth: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, money laundering, and transferring criminal property. Five years and 10 months;
  • Glen Houghton, 41, of St Peters Street, Lowestoft: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession with intent to supply Class B drugs, and transferring criminal property. Nine years and five months;
  • Jeremy Goldner, 54, of Northolm, Edgware: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property. Two years and four months suspended;
  • Lisa Warner, 45, of Cambridge Road, Canvey Island: Conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and transferring criminal property. Four years suspended.
L-r: Glen Houghton, Perry Revell and Stephen Hart

Detective Sergeant Mike Monkton from the Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “Drugs are a plague upon our society and those involved in their importation and sale are responsible for ruining lives and destroying communities.

“This group made hundreds of thousands of pounds from causing misery to others.

“This was a thorough, widespread, and complex investigation but in the end, due to the sheer amount of evidence we had compiled against them, 11 people were left with no option but to plead guilty to the charges against them.”

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]