'ENCROCHAT OUT' Protestors stage 'unreliable data' demo outside court as trial goes on inside


EXCLUSIVE: PROTESTORS staged a demo opposing the UK's biggest ever police operation against organised crime outside a court today as a trial continued inside.

The unusual protest saw defendants from other cases and relatives wave banners against the National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation into the Encrochat phone system that saw more than 1,500 arrests and scores of raids and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms across the UK in a series of unconnected operations that have led to hundreds of charges since 2020 when Dutch and French police hacked into the supposedly encrypted communication system.

The protest, outside Sheffield Crown Court this morning (May 12), carried on for about two hours as police and court staff looked on. Banners included the slogans "Justice system - shame on you," "Encrochat out," "unreliable data," "no continuity," "innocent on remand," full disclosure needed" and "wrongful conviction." Others had direct references to NCA staff involved in the prosecutions.

The NCA launched Operation Venetic after the hack in April 2020. Encrochat shut itself down two months later after details of the hack emerged. The system was being used by around 50,000 people worldwide, including about 9,000 in the UK. Police said all users were criminals to justify the hack, but small numbers of lawyers and journalists were also identified using it, leading to privacy concerns. European counterparts allowed the NCA access to historic messages and call data, but they were also able to monitor messages in real time from April to June 2020, preventing a number of murder conspiracies or violent attacks.

Both historic and real-time messages have been used in ongoing and concluded prosecutions. So-called "live-intercept" evidence is inadmissible in British courts, and it has led to a number of legal challenges from defendants, but, so far they have all been rejected with judges saying that because they were briefly stored on the devices before the messages were sent, they were stored data and not live intercepts.

Scores of people, including several top-end drug importers have already been convicted under Operation Venetic, only a small number have been acquitted or had cases collapse. However, some of the prosecutions are based on message evidence alone, with devices being attributed to the individuals charged, but defence lawyers argue that the raw data has not been disclosed to defendants and there is no continuity of evidence. One challenge mounted against the Encrochat data was lodged with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and the ongoing case was adjourned until later this year. A man who took part in the protest today said: "Some people have been on remand since 2020 and there are trials adjourned until next year. They won't even disclose all the evidence. "The screws (court staff) came out and said it was illegal and the police drove by about 20 times, but it didn't stop us. Next time it will be massive." A spokeswoman for the court said: "I am aware that there was a small protest. "Security said they were well behaved and they were left to quietly protest outside the building." A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said police were alerted but the protest was allowed to continue and lasted about two hours.