Seven arrests in early-morning raids across east London and Essex

Mick Ferris

Specialist officers made seven arrests and seized cash and a suspected firearm at addresses in east London and Essex yesterday.

The activity is linked to Operation Eternal, the Met’s investigation to counter the use of encrypted devices by criminals to avoid detection.

Operation Eternal is the Met’s investigation name for its involvement in Operation Venetic, led by the National Crime Agency.

The warrants in Redbridge and Havering were carried out in the early hours of Wednesday, November 18 by the Met’s Specialist Crime Proactive Hub, aided by the Territorial Support Group.

At the same time, searches were carried out at addresses in Essex.

The warrants relate to an investigation into people who thought their criminality was hidden behind security devices to distribute messages and images in order to carry out their crimes

Images are used by the criminals to show the illicit items and the one attached shows what is attributed to be a 1 kilogram block of cocaine.

The investigation relates to EncroChat, which was one of the largest providers of encrypted communications and offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service, but an international law enforcement team cracked the company’s encryption.

On June 13, 2020, EncroChat realised the platform had been penetrated and sent a message to its users urging them to throw away their handsets. The phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, have a kill code which wipes them remotely – have no other conventional smart phone functionality and cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.

Cash seized during a raid in Havering

As a result on the investigation, on Tuesday, November 17, police arrested a 52 year-old man in Maldon on suspicion of directing the supply of drugs into east London and Essex between April and September 2020.

Also seized at the time of the arrest was a knife that is also suspected to be a stun-gun.

In addition, other addresses in east London and Essex, believed to be linked to the organised crime group, were searched on Wednesday as police sought further evidence of drugs supply.

At an address in Havering, a 40-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possession of criminal property and cash, believed to be in excess of £100,000, was seized.

Three addresses in Ilford were searched resulting in three arrests.

At one a 46-year-old-man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs. A suspected firearm was also found in the search, this awaits forensic examination.

At the second address a 48-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of possession of criminal property and about £6,500 in cash was seized.

At the third Ilford address, officers arrested a 45 year-old man on suspicion of possession of drugs with intent to supply.

At an address in Grays, two 18-year-old men were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs.

At another Grays, address a 23-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of cannabis.

Lastly at an address in Clacton-on-Sea, police executed a search warrant and discovered a cannabis factory. There were no occupants or arrests.

Currently, as a result of the operation, eight people have been arrested.

Police continue to identify other subjects concerned in the supply of drugs and offences under the proceeds of crime act.

Detective Inspector Niall McSheffrey, from the Specialist Crime Command, said: “The action taken today demonstrates the Met’s continued fight to tackle serious and organised crime. The extent of this organised crime group’s criminality is clear from the messages and images on the encrypted devices. I hope today’s activity sends a clear message to criminals that they have nowhere to hide.”

“The National Crime Agency played a key role combatting encrypted communications through Operation Venetic and due to extensive and thorough investigations a number of EncroChat users have been found.”

Mick Ferris

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