ENCROCHAT HACK: Armed drug dealer on police radar before encryption probe but phone sealed fate
A MAN has been jailed for over nine years after a sawn-off shotgun and cash was recovered and his drug dealing activities were cemented by evidence gained from the Encrochat hack.
Peter O’Donnell, 36, (above) was arrested on Friday June 12 after police recovered a sawn-off shotgun from a taxi travelling away from his home in Ladbroke Grove, west London. The taxi was occupied by O’Donnell’s partner Nicola Tomlinson, 32, to whom he had given possession of the weapon, along with five shotgun cartridges. After realising the shotgun had been seized , O’Donnell attempted to flee his flat on Chesterton Road in a separate taxi. He was detained by Met Police armed officers who found five mobile phones in his possession, one of which was an encrypted EncroChat device. He also had close to £17,000 in cash in his rucksack.
This spring 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 criminals worldwide, including 10,000 in the UK.
They allowed police forces across Europe, including in the UK, access to real time messaging between organised crime groups.
It led to hundreds of raids, arrests and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms.
ARMED: The shotgun recovered during the operation (NCA)
The probe was run by the joint National Crime Agency (NCA) and Met Police Organised Crime Partnership (OCP). An OCP spokesman said: "In a search of his flat, officers recovered drug dealing paraphernalia, traces of cocaine and over £500 in cash. "Messages recovered from his EncroChat phone as part of Operation Venetic – the UK investigation into the encrypted messaging platform - provided further evidence of his drug dealing activities." O’Donnell subsequently pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition, the supply of class A drugs and money laundering. He was sentenced yesterday (October 9) at Isleworth Crown Court to nine years and four months in prison. The judge also ordered the forfeiture of the £17,505 seized from him at arrest. Matt McMillan from the Organised Crime Partnership said: “O’Donnell was a serious criminal who posed a significant threat to others through his supply of class A drugs and possession of a firearm. “Not only did this operation put an end to his illicit activity, it removed a dangerous weapon from circulation. “The NCA and MPS will continue to work together to protect the public from the serious and organised criminals who are responsible for fuelling violent crime across the UK.”
Tomlinson was also charged with possession of a firearm and ammunition, but the charge was subsequently dropped.
However, the NCA said she had been fined £500 for possession of cocaine.
OPINION: FRANK'S VIEW
Frank Matthews is the online pseudonym of a former Met Police Detective Sergeant who left after blowing the whistle on racism, corruption and failings at New Scotland Yard.
He specialised in Investigation of Homicide, firearms, serious and organised crime, informants, witness protection and covert policing. He now campaigns for global drugs law reform saying the war on drugs is not working and allowing criminals to thrive. Linkedin @lamplightercop
"This case highlights a worrying trend of drug dealers being armed with firearms to protect themselves and the parcel in routine and with relatively small amounts of drugs.
A shotgun can do an awful amount of damage especially at close range.
I welcome the sentence and applaud the brave officers who have risked their lives in apprehending this man but there needs to be a method of taking this trade out of the hands of organised criminals and their runners."