ENCROCHAT: Man tried to sell firearms through encrypted messaging system
A MAN from Biddenden has been jailed for more than eleven years following attempts to sell prohibited firearms and ammunition through the encrypted EncroChat phone system.
During the morning of 14 October 2020, officers executed a search warrant at a rental property in Headcorn Road.
Hidden inside a wardrobe, the constables located a bag containing a self-loading pistol, silencer, magazine and a quantity of loose ammunition.
David Fitzgerald was present at the property and arrested. A further search was completed at a nearby storage unit he leased and inside the officers found a bolt-action rifle plus ammunition wrapped inside a towel.
Investigators from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate also recovered encrypted messages sent by Fitzgerald to criminal associates, between March and June 2020. The messages indicated he possessed firearms, including the seized pistol, that were for sale.
Fitzgerald was later charged with conspiracy to sell or transfer prohibited weapons, possessing a prohibited pistol (namely a self-loading pistol with a barrel less than 30cms), possessing a firearm without a certificate (the rifle) and four counts of possessing firearm ammunition without a certificate.
He pleaded guilty to all the counts except conspiracy to sell or transfer prohibited weapons. He was convicted of the indictment after a trial at Maidstone Crown Court. On Friday 25 November 2022, 58-year-old Fitzgerald was sentenced to eleven years and six months' imprisonment.
Detective Constable Terry Hanlon said: "Fitzgerald could have no legal reason for possessing the firearms and evidence was presented at court that proved he had offered firearms for sale via an encrypted messaging service used by organised criminals.
"He sought to hide these weapons but the diligent efforts of the officers who completed the searches ensured they were recovered. Kent is a safer place now they have been taken out of circulation."