ENCROCHAT: Drugs kingpin Matthew Harrod already under investigation when encrypted phones found


A DRUGS kingpin and his network have been brought down after they were sentenced to a combined 138 years in prison.

Matthew Harrod, (pictured above) the head of the organised crime network (OCN), and nine other defendants, appeared at Woolwich Crown Court on Thursday, 10 December.

The criminal network spanned Essex, London, Kent, Sussex and Dorset.

The Met Police has pointed to evidence from encrypted Encrochat phone devices, which were hacked by European law enforcement earlier this year, being used by Harrod and making up part of the investigation.

However, the involvement of Encrochat in this case is not clear as the gang had been under investigation as part of Operation Edge since 2018, well before the hack, and the charges concerned a period up to only January 2020.

Detective Superintendent Neil Ballard, from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “Today’s sentences conclude a two-year operation tackling the import and distribution of 31kg of cocaine, 308kg of amphetamine, 590kg of cannabis resin, 3kg of skunk or herbal cannabis, 30 cannabis plants and nearly £900,000 in cash. We believe that these figures represent a fraction of their trade.

IN THE MONEY: Cash seized during the two year probe (Met Police)

“A snapshot of Taylor’s encrypted device demonstrated insight into a typical day of the conspiracy in action, namely 30 deliveries and possession of £750,000 in cash. We are confident that taking into account the span of the entire conspiracy network known to us, the similarity of crates and industrial scales found at different addresses, the repeated meetings between co-conspirators and quantity of mixing or cutting agents, the quantity of controlled drugs involved was valued in the millions of pounds.

“In his role as head of this OCN, Harrod tasked his associates to carry out his illicit activities and thought he was untouchable by police, concealing his criminal behaviour on an EncroChat device.

"Little did he know that we were putting significant resources into curtailing his activities and bringing him to justice."

JAILED: Harrod from a police mugshot in 2014 (Met Police)

In February 2014 Harrod was sentenced to ten years in prison after pleading guilty to being involved in the large scale supply of drugs.

It means he continued the business as soon as being released half way through.

At the same time wife Fiona Kelly, 48, pleaded guilty to benefit fraud totalling £60,000 and money laundering. She was given an 18 month suspended sentence.

After the earlier sentencing, National Crime Agency Officers investigated the couple’s finances to find out the profits the pair had made.

In June 2016 a judge at Kingston Crown Court made confiscation orders for £490,667 against the couple, which saw them lose their luxury home in Hayes Lane, Bromley, as well as £107,000 taken from bank accounts, a car and £3,500 cash which was seized from the flat where Harrod was arrested.

Earlier this year Dutch and French investigators broke through the encryption of the supposedly secure Encrochat encrypted phone communication platform which was being used by around 60,000 people worldwide, including about 9,000 in the UK.

They allowed police forces across Europe, including in the UK, access to real time messaging between Encrochat users, including organised crime groups.

It led to hundreds of raids, arrests and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms.

Although, it has since emerged many of the investigations were already underway before the hack, including Harrod's.

The NCA says more than 1,000 people have been arrested as part of the wider probe, but many of them were not found to be in possession of Encrochat devices.

There have been a number of legal challenges by people charged under the operation that evidence from the phones as not admissible in court as it was a "live intercept".

The verdict in a test case is due.

Mr Ballard added: “This drawn out judicial process could have been so much quicker and saved thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money if Harrod hadn’t dragged his heels and been the only person to not plead guilty, even though the evidence against him was so overwhelming. His disregard for others was apparent throughout the trial.”

During the extensive trial, it was said that:

Harrod was the leading role in the OCN where he directed other co-conspirators and organised the supply of commercial quantities of high purity cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis throughout the conspiracy period; July 2018 to January 2020.

He had substantial links to and influence on others within the conspiracy. There was substantial financial gain from his illicit activities and he used a conventional phone and at least two encrypted phones, despite the terms of a previous Serious Crime Prevention Order.

Clarke (above) acted as Harrod’s lieutenant and O’Brien was just below Clarke in the chain of command. Clarke would direct O’Brien and other co-conspirators. Both organised the supply of commercial quantities of high purity cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis throughout the conspiracy period: July 2018 to January 2020. They had substantial links to and influence over others within the conspiracy and was also benefitting financially from the activities. Both used a conventional phone and at least one encrypted phone.

Barrett and Taylor’s roles were significant operational roles or functions as trusted couriers within the OCN. They were organised by Clarke and O’Brien and met with and made exchanges with other significant members of the OCN. They were involved from at least 30 January 2019 to 14 January 2020.

Messages on Taylor’s encrypted telephone and the amount of money found and seized from his home address demonstrate his knowledge of the scale of the operation. On one day he was involved in 30 deliveries and was talking with co-conspirators. He was in possession of £784,230 which had been bundled and split on the day he was arrested.

Walker was also a trusted courier involved in the movement, distribution and storage of the drugs and was organised by Clarke and given the seal of approval by Harrod. Walker was involved in purchasing a van with Clarke and adapting it to include a secret hide.

Butler was also a trusted courier and involved in the storage of amphetamine within the OCN and therefore had an operational function. He was organised by Clarke and O’Brien having been given the seal of approval by Harrod. He was involved from 14 August 2019 until arrest on 20 January 2020. He was provided with a van by O’Brien that had been adapted to create a secret hide. Together with Hughes he conducted a number of deliveries (e.g. 28th, 30th August 2019, 10th October, 27th, 28th November). Found at their beach hut, was a total of 42kgs of amphetamine.

Together with Hughes, he had use of an encrypted phone provided to him by Clarke.

Mr Ballard added: “The complexity of this case doesn’t stop there. 11 other co-conspirators, who were involved in the storing and distribting of these drugs, have already been through the courts and are now spending their rightfully earned time in prison.”

Harrod, 47, of Kingsway, Hove, East Sussex was sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment after being found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis on 11 November. He had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching his Serious Crime Prevention Order.

Clarke, 45, of Horns Lodge Lane, Tonbridge, Kent was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty on 12 March to conspiracy to supply cocaine, amphetamine, cannabis and possession of criminal property (namely £20,000).

John O’Brien, 69, of Bean Road, Greenhithe was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty on 12 March to conspiracy to supply cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis.

Lee Butler, 52, of Clement Hill Road, Hastings, East Sussex was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty on 12 March to conspiracy to supply amphetamine.

Tina Hughes, 75, (above) of Clement Hill Road, Hastings, East Sussex was sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty on 12 March to conspiracy to supply amphetamine. She must wear an electronic tag and abide to a curfew.

John Barrett, 40, of Thicket Road, Upper Norwood refused to attend court but was sentenced to 7 years and 6 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty on 9 June to conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis and possession of criminal property (namely £13,500 in cash).

Lee Taylor, of Landstead Road, Greenwich refused to attend court but was sentenced to 8 years' imprisonment in his absence after pleading guilty on 12 March to conspiracy to supply cocaine and possession of criminal property (namely £784,230).

Joseph Walker, 33, of Barrack Road, Christchurch, Dorset was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty on 15 June to conspiracy to supply amphetamine.

Mr Ballard said: “I really hope this result shows the dedication of the Metropolitan Police and our law enforcement partners to tackle the supply and sale of lethal drugs in London and the UK, which we know is closely linked to violence in our communities.

“In the Met, disrupting serious organised crime and violence is at the top of our agenda and we will be relentless in our pursuit of anyone who looks to capitalise or profit from illicit drugs supply.”

Eleven other co-conspirators had already been sentenced.

Robert Preston, 60, of Chalk Lane, Harlow, Essex pleaded guilty on 28 February 2019 to possession with intent to supply cannabis and amphetamine. He was sentenced to 5 years' and 3 months imprisonment.

Anthony Dann, 50, of Middleton Hall Lane, Brentwood, Essex pleaded guilty on 28 June 2019 to possession with intent to supply cannabis and failure to disclose the PIN code for a device. He was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months.

Brian Iwanicki, 44, of Ashbourne Road, Essex pleaded guilty on 28 June 2019 to possession with intent to supply cannabis and failure to disclose the PIN code for a device. He was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months.

Anthony Pitts, 58, of Cambridge Drive, Lewisham pleaded guilty on 16 July 2019 to possession with intent to supply cocaine. He was sentenced to 13 years and 6 months imprisonment.

Stephen Hopton, 44, of Coghurst hall, Hastings, East Sussex pleaded guilty on 16 July 2019 to possession with intent to supply cocaine and possession of criminal property. He was sentenced to 8 years and 6 months' imprisonment.

Allen Patrick, 45, of Acorn Gardens, Upper Norwood pleaded not guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine and possession of criminal property and was convicted by a jury on 13 December 2019. He was sentenced on the same day to 6 years' imprisonment.

Lorenc Corbja, 28, of no fixed address pleaded guilty on 23 July 2019 to possession with intent to supply cocaine. He was sentenced on 13 December 2019 to 3 years and 6 months' imprisonment.

Steven Attwood, 56. of Berwick Way, Sevenoaks, Kent pleaded guilty on 2 October 2019 to possession with intent to supply amphetamine and cannabis and to possession of a bladed article and ammonia. He was sentenced on 2 October 2019 to 7 years' imprisonment.

Liam Myant, 33, of Douglas Square, Morden, Surrey pleaded guilty on 1 November 2019 to possession with intent to supply cocaine. He was sentenced on 1 November 2019 to 6 years' imprisonment.

Corey Gooding, 51. of Oakdene Avenue, Chislehurst, Kent pleaded guilty on 01 November 2019 to possession with intent to supply cocaine. He was sentenced on 1 November 2019 to 6 years imprisonment.

Thomas Sowerby, 36, (above) of Chalton Street, Camden pleaded guilty on 22 November 2019 to possession of criminal property. He was also wanted on recall to prison. He was sentenced on 22 November 2019 to 8 months' imprisonment.

Combining all the sentence results together for the whole operation, this totals 138 years and 5 months' imprisonment.

Nicholas Kakoulli, 25, of Matchless Drive, Woolwich is due to be sentenced on Thursday, 7 January at Woolwich Crown Court. He pleaded guilty on 12 March to conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis and being in possession of a bladed article.