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ENCROCHAT HACK: More arrests in encrypted phones probe as court ruling on 'live intercept' awaited

OFFICERS from the Met Police Specialist Crime Command executed two separate warrants in Romford and Hammersmith (pictured above) this morning (Thursday, January 28) as part of an ongoing operation investigating people suspected of using encrypted EncroChat devices to commit crimes.

A 34-year-old man was arrested at an address on Greenside Road, Hammersmith, west London, and a 34-year-old man was arrested at an address on St Clements Avenue, Romford, east London.

The man in Hammersmith was arrested for conspiracy to supply class A drugs and conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life under Operation Shallow - an investigation into an organised crime group (OCG) involved in the distribution of cocaine and firearms.

The man in Romford was arrested for conspiracy to supply class A drugs and possession of criminal property.

Both men have been taken into custody at London police stations.

Cash and suspected class A drugs were seized during the operation.

A woman was also arrested at the address on Greenside Road for conspiracy to supply class A drugs – she remains in custody.

RAID: Suspected cocaine found at the Hammersmith address (Met Police)

Detective Chief Inspector Driss Hayoukane, from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “Over the past few months, law enforcement officials across the country have been working with the National Crime Agency (NCA) to dismantle Organised Criminal Networks that are smuggling drugs and lethal weapons into the UK.

“These arrests today in London are vital part in our relentless drive to reduce violent crime and stop the supply of drugs and weapons happening in the capital.”

In April Dutch and French investigators broke through the encryption of the supposedly secure Encrochat encrypted phone communication platform which was being used by around 50,000 people worldwide, including about 9,000 in the UK.

SEIZURE: Bundles of notes found in Hammersmith (Met Police)

They allowed police forces across Europe, including in the UK, access to previously sent and new "real time" messaging between suspected organised crime groups. It led to hundreds of raids, arrests and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms across the UK in a series of unconnected operations. Of the more than 1,000 people arrested as part of the wider operation, many were not found in possession of Encrochat devices, meaning several of the prosecutions, are based on remotely-obtained message evidence alone.

Encrochat shut itself down in June after details of the hack emerged.

It has since emerged that many of those arrested were already on police radars or under surveillance before the Encrochat operation was launched.

Some people have been charged in cases where no drugs or cash were seized and the prosecution is relying on Encrochat messages as evidence.

HAUL: Suspected drugs and cash in the Hammersmith property (Met Police)

Several defence lawyers for defendants involved in Encrochat prosecutions have made applications to have cases dismissed on grounds that any Encrochat real time message evidence should be inadmissible in the cases.

In Britain, live intercepts of phone calls and other forms of communication can be carried out by police under strict conditions.

Phone calls may not be recorded and the information gleaned can only be used for intelligence purposes and not as evidence in court.

There are different rules in different European countries, with some nations allowing live intercept evidence in court.

In the UK any historic or "stored" messages that were retrieved from a hack can be used as evidence in court.

In one British prosecution, which cannot be identified, the defence made an application to have real-time message evidence dismissed as inadmissible.

During the hearing it emerged that the NCA and CPS considered it "live" evidence in the early stages of the Encrochat hack and knew there could be problems with it being used in evidence.

But, lawyers for the prosecution argued that as the messages were "stored" onto the devices as soon as they were being sent in "real time," then the data was stored and it could be used in evidence.

This month, the judge agreed, and threw out the application, but the case has now gone to the Court of Appeal with the decision awaited.

There has been a public backlash from families of many of the defendants, who claim their loved ones are being illegally prosecuted due to the 'live' evidence.

Apparent NCA documents have been published on social media as exclusively revealed by Essex News and Investigations on Sunday.


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