EncroChat gaffer who wanted to import 90kgs of heroin a week gets just 10 years after guilty plea



AN ORGANISED crime boss who planned to import 90kgs of heroin a week has received just a ten years and nine months jail term after pleading guilty to conspiring to supply class A drugs.

Stephen Hunt, 60, (above) was a senior member of the group investigated as part of the National Crime Agency (NCA) EncroChat probe. Caernarfon Crown Court heard he liaised with contacts abroad, rented office space via a front company pretending to deal in household linen and worked with accomplices to have consignments of heroin delivered by fast parcel.

Using the EncroChat handle Nobleblood, Hunt, of Main Street, Great Oxenden, Northamptonshire, rented an office at the start of last year in Huntingdon where parcels of heroin could be delivered.

An NCA spokesman said: "He drove to the office in his white, convertible Mercedes AMG sports car (above) where he was captured on CCTV – and his EncroChat phone messages revealed the OCG’s heroin would be forwarded to Liverpool where he planned to set up a new office. It’s believed the heroin was also being sold along the North Wales coast. "Other EncroChat conversations indicated the OCG was importing at least 24 kilos of Class A per week with plans to import more than 90 kilos per week." The heroin came into the UK via Spain and the Netherlands. Hunt, who lived in Spain between 2001 and 2014. was jailed for 10 years and nine months after admitting conspiring to supply class A drugs.

Alongside him was fellow OCG member Dylan Sanger, 34, (above) of Bailey Avenue, Ellesmere Port. Sanger used the EncroChat handles Syruproad and Swankyboar – he secured individuals and premises to receive the drugs, and organised cash payments to those involved. When Sanger was arrested in August last year officers found around £9,000 hidden behind his car’s dashboard and £1,300 in his house. He was jailed for nine years.

Also jailed were Tyrone Holbrook-Harris, 27, (above) of Hillside Crescent, Buckley, Flintshire, who took his orders from Sanger.

And Darren Barrett, 41, of Village Road, Northop Hall in Mold, who took his orders from Holbrook-Harris. Holbrook-Harris and Barrett (below) were sentenced to six years and five years three months respectively. All the men admitted conspiring to supply class A drugs.

On 5 May last year National Crime Agency officers watched Holbrook-Harris receive a parcel from Barrett which had been delivered to Barrett’s home by courier. The men were arrested in a pub car park in Mold with the assistance of North Wales Police. The parcel contained 9.45 kilos of heroin had a purity of 44 percent and a street value of £475,000. The delivery was one of at least six the OCG had arranged with at least 18 kilos of class A drugs coming into the UK between January and May 2020 with a total value of £900,000. Piers Phillips, NCA operations manager, said: “These men were central to the violence and exploitation that UK crime groups deal in when it comes to supplying heroin through County Lines. “Class A drugs cause misery and bring chaos to our communities.” “We’re pleased to have taken this OCG out of action and we’ll continue to do our utmost to protect the public from this threat.”

Many EncroChat defendants have received 15 or more years for conspiracy to supply class A drugs, even after consideration for pleading guilty. Essex News and Investigations revealed earlier this year that a prosecutor suggested the courts were sentencing Encrochat cases "outside of guidelines" with heftier than usual penalties. It was after a defendant who used the encrypted phone system to sell large amounts of cocaine across Merseyside and Cheshire was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Stephen Christian, 43, (pictured above) received a 20-year sentence from Judge Garrett Byrne at Liverpool Crown Court after he admitted the offence, which involved deals of up to 12KGs a time. However, the judge knocked five years off because he said it had been reasonable for him to wait until the outcome of an appeal in another Encrochat case before entering his plea.

Essex News and Investigations was watching Christian's sentence via an online remote link, brought in due to coronavirus restrictions, and stayed connected to wait for another drugs case to begin. The prosecutor in the case began talking to the court clerk while the court was not in session. Referring to the hefty sentence handed to Christian (below), he said to the clerk: "The courts are going to go outside the (sentencing) guidelines with these (Operation Venetic) cases." It was then that the clerk mentioned that a member of the media was still listening and hit the mute button, so it is not known what, if anything was said after this."

Essex News and Investigations asked the CPS to comment on what was said and asked if courts had been advised to impose stricter sentences on Operation Venetic cases, and if so, which Government body had asked for this to be implemented. The CPS did not issue an official response, but a spokesman said the prosecutor in question had clarified that it was merely his personal view that judges appeared to be issuing longer sentences in Operation Venetic cases, because many of the prosecutions involved large quantities of drugs, which was a reason for imposing a longer sentence. The spokesman added that there was no conspiracy for Operation Venetic defendants to get stricter sentences than if they had been charged with the same offences under a standard operation. We asked for clarification on why giving someone a longer sentence because it involved a larger than usual amount of drugs could be considered "outside of guidelines," asking if there were not such guidelines in place to lengthen a sentence due to the quantity of drugs involved, and got no further response.