ENCROCHAT HACK: Drug importer nabbed by encrypted phones probe moans he could 'die in prison'
A DRUG importer caught bringing in nearly £3 million worth of cocaine during the Encrochat raids moaned he will probably "leave prison in a coffin" before being sentenced to 15 years after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to smuggle the class A drug.
But Judge Julian Smith told Jason Bunce, 57, (above) he deserved what was coming.
Judge Smith, sitting at Maidstone Crown Court, said: "You did this to satisfy your greed. The stakes are incredibly high because the rewards are great.
"You took the risk...you lost. These are the consequences."
Representing Bunce, barrister Sarah O'Kane had told the judge her client "expects he will come out of prison in a coffin."
HIDDEN: Specially adapted exhausts had been used by Bunce to import drugs (NCA)
He is likely to be eligible to get out aged 65 if he serves the standard half of the sentence.
Bunce, from Broomfield Road, Maidstone, Kent, was nabbed after National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators, supported by Border Force, stopped a Northern Irish lorry driver Gary Sloan on April 23 as he tried to pass border controls at Dover’s Eastern Dock.
It was during a series of high-profile raids triggered by the law enforcement hack of the supposedly encrypted Encrochat communication system used by 60,000 organised criminals across the globe.
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 10,000 criminals 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, with more than 1,000 people arrested.
STASH: Top, the lorry, middle, some of the drugs, and bottom, how they were concealed (NCA)
The lorry driven by Sloan had travelled from Rotterdam, via Calais, and was transporting a legitimate delivery of grapes and fruit.
Officers searched the lorry and recovered 36 kilos of cocaine concealed in two specially-converted vertical exhaust chimneys at the rear of the vehicle.
Each modified exhaust pipe had a total of 18 packages inside, which had been crammed into a hollowed-out compartment.
The drugs would have been worth up to £2.8 million if sold on the streets.
The court was shown photos of encrypted Encrochat messages recovered from Bunce’s phone.
Analysis of the messages suggested that the customised exhaust pipes had previously been loaned by Bunce to other organised crime groups who had stock to move.
An NCA spokesman said: "Prior to the seizure in April, NCA surveillance teams watched as Bunce travelled 150 miles from his home in February to a deserted industrial estate in Warwickshire and removed the exhaust pipes from another lorry.
"Investigators later confirmed that the lorry was registered to the same Northern Ireland based haulage company as the one transporting the cocaine in April.
"Bunce met with the lorry driver the day before the seizure and was seen to be inspecting the area close to the hide on the lorry that would later be stopped coming back into the UK at Dover."
Bunce pleaded not guilty at a court hearing in May 2020 but was convicted this week. Gary Sloan, 50, of Magheralin, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, was acquitted as the jury believed he was oblivious to the cocaine being on board.
NCA Regional Head of Investigations Gerry McLean said: “The lengths that Bunce went to in planning the importation into the UK demonstrated a high level of organised crime.
“It’s clear from the evidence that the customised pipes were extremely valuable items that were part of much wider drug trafficking activity.
“Working with partners like Border Force and PSNI, we’ve stopped a considerable amount of illicit drugs entering the UK."