A Kirkby man has become the first in Merseyside to be jailed in connection with a huge international operation targeting criminals who used a mobile encryption service to try to evade detection.
James Duckworth, 42 years, was jailed today (Wednesday 3 February) for 16-and-a-half years for his part in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin around the UK.
He is the first person in Merseyside to be sentenced after the operation involving European law enforcement agencies working with the NCA and supported across the UK by police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units.
The operation came about after law enforcement officials in Europe managed to crack the ‘encrochat’ service being used by criminals involved in serious and organised crime to carry out their business.
After an extensive investigation, Duckworth, of Langdale Close, Kirkby was found to be using the encro handle ‘atomicmantis’ and detectives found images on his phone of drugs and large quantities of cash, including a batch of notes totalling £385,000.
Evidence was discovered within the device of a running drug ledger with evidence of payments of almost £5 million pounds and a plan to import drugs from Costa Rica.
He was arrested at home on 3 November 2020 and during a search, expensive watches, an anti-bugging device and a cash counting machine were recovered.
Duckworth was subsequently charged and convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin and cocaine within the UK and an offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
He was sentenced today to 16-and-a-half-years in jail after pleading guilty.
Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson said: “We welcome today’s sentencing which shows how seriously police and the courts take those who seek to profit from the misery of others by dealing drugs.
“Duckworth, and many others like him, thought that by using encrypted devices they could evade justice. Today’s result shows in no uncertain terms that he was wrong.
“He is the first but certainly won’t be the last in Merseyside to face a significant period of time in jail thanks to the efforts of detectives who cracked the mobile encryption service these criminals used.
“Merseyside Police, along with law enforcement agencies across the world, will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of those people who think they are above the law.”
Det Insp Wilkinson added: “Merseyside Police has a proven track record in dealing robustly with individuals responsible for the wholesale supply of illegal drugs both locally and across the country. These people often use violence, including guns and knives, to protect their business interests, as well as exploiting young and vulnerable people and bringing fear and intimidation to the communities they live and operate in.
“We always stay one step ahead of these criminals and just as they have adapted how they operate, so have we. As well as having officers on the streets to disrupt criminals with warrants, stop searches and other activity, many officers and staff work behind the scenes to tackle to trend for using encrypted devices to try to evade detection. The cracking of this service has already led to dozens of arrests here in Merseyside arrested for various offences including drugs and firearms supply and money laundering, and seen huge quantities of cash and drugs seized, and will lead to more.
“This work with the National Crime Agency and the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and crime enforcement partners across Europe shows nobody is infallible and when we come together, we can stop criminals in their tracks when they least expect it.
“Around 60,000 users of encrochat have been identified worldwide, with about 10,000 of them in the UK – all involved in coordinating and planning the supply and distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activity.
“Merseyside and many areas of the UK are safer thanks to the fact that Duckworth and others like him have been caught, and I want to reassure the communities of Merseyside that the force will continue to target anyone involved in serious organised crime to make our communities safer.”