Boss of clothes range worn by Katie Price 'tipped off about Encrochat hack by corrupt police worker'
THE boss of a clothes range worn by Katie Price (below) and TOWIE stars is a suspect in the country's biggest ever investigation into organised crime networks, after allegedly being tipped off about the Encrochat hack by a civilian police worker, a court heard.
Liam France, boss of Intense Menswear, based in Stockport, is wanted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) to face perverting the course of justice charges amid allegations he was tipped off about the Encrochat hack by a civilian police worker in the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU).
Liverpool Crown Court heard earlier this month that Natalie Mottram, 22, (in an image from Facebook below) a Cheshire Police intelligence analyst on secondment to NWROCU at the time, is accused of perverting the course of justice between April 1 and April 30 2020 by informing Mr France and a couple, Leah Bennett and Jonathan Kay, that "law enforcement agencies were able to access the encrypted data of the EncroChat communications service."
In February 2018 France was pictured with Katie Price and her son Junior, then 12, as the boy became a face of the company after designing his own Intense Menswear clothing range.
The Only Way is Essex stars Tommy Mallet, Marco Falcone (below) and Chris Clark have all been photographed wearing the clothes as well as Scotty T from Geordie Shore.
Neither Ms Price or any of the other celebrities have been implicated in any wrongdoing and have merely been snapped in the designs.
The NCA did not name France ahead of the hearing but previously said "a charge has been authorised against another suspect but has not been served yet."
Nicky Gatto, defending Bennett, told the court the NCA was looking to charge France, but he has "left the jurisdiction."
He is understood to have left the UK for Dubai before he could be arrested, but his current whereabouts are unknown.
Mottram, who has several images of her power lifting on Facebook (below), from Vermont Close, Great Sankey, Warrington, is also accused of misconduct in public office in that between April 1 and June 12 2020, she is alleged to have "wilfully misconducted herself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in her office, by disclosing to Jonathan Kay, Leah Bennett and Liam France confidential intelligence information to which she had been given access."
Mottram also faces four charges of securing unauthorised access to computer material, contrary to section 1(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
It is alleged that on April 16 2019 she "caused a computer to perform a function with intent to secure unauthorised access to a program or data held in a computer, namely police records relating to Jonathan Kay and Liam France, and at the time of causing the computer to perform the function knew that the access was unauthorised. She is alleged to have done the same in connection with "police records relating to Jake Downie," on June 25 2019; police records relating to Samantha Mottram, on June 2 2019 and police records relating to Coby McNamee on July 9 2019.
At a hearing at the crown court this month she pleaded not guilty to all six charges.
Bennett and Kay, both 36, (together above from Instagram) from Newark Drive, Great Sankey, Warrington, are each charged with an offence of perverting the course of justice between April 1 and April 30 2020 by "a series of acts which had a tendency to pervert the course of public justice in that they disclosed to Liam France that law enforcement agencies were able to access the encrypted data of the EncroChat communications service."
Bennett denied the offence at the same hearing.
Kay also faces two charges of failure to comply with a notice, contrary to section 53(1) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, in that he is alleged to have failed to disclose the PIN codes for an iPhone 11 and an iPhone XR to investigators between October 7 and November 1 2020.
Kay was unable to plea to any of the three charges and did not attend the hearing as the court heard he was to sick with coronavirus and self isolating on the day.
Mottram (above right with Bennett from Facebook) was arrested by National Crime Agency officers, as part of an Independent Office for Police Conduct directed investigation, before being charged. The case was adjourned until later this month to allow Kay to enter his pleas.
The trial is not expected until 2022.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) led Operation Venetic was launched after French and Dutch police hacked into supposedly secure encrypted Encrochat mobile phone system in April 2020.
The hack led to the UK's biggest ever operation against suspected organised criminals that has so far seen more than 1,500 arrests and scores of raids and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms across the UK in a series of unconnected operations across the country that have led to hundreds of charges.
Encrochat was being used by around 50,000 people worldwide, including about 9,000 in the UK.
Dutch and French law enforcement allowed police forces across Europe, including in the UK, access to the previously sent and new "real time" messaging between suspected organised crime groups before the raids started.
Encrochat shut itself down when it discovered the hack in June after people began being charged.
The NCA has said that Encrochat was exclusively used by criminals, but disclosures during initial hearings seen by Essex News and Investigations suggest that the agency was alerted to some celebrities using Encrochat and the possibility of others using the system to conduct extra-marital affairs.
The NCA has continued to make arrests and charge people under Operation Venetic while a series of legal challenges over the admissibility of evidence from the Encrochat devices rumble on.
A number of prosecutions have already collapsed for evidential reasons.
However, today, a legal challenge involving about 15 separate defendants, which challenged the legality of the warrant the NCA used to access the data was rejected by a crown court judge.
The cases cannot be identified for legal reasons, but defence lawyers have already been granted permission to take it to the Court of Appeal.