ENCROLEAK: Corrupt police worker tipped off criminal pal about French hack of encrypted phones
A CORRUPT police employee illegally accessed sensitive information and tipped-off a criminal friend about a the EncroChat hack, a court heard.
Natalie Mottram, 24, (above) from Warrington, was employed by Cheshire Police but was on secondment and working as an intelligence analyst at the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) when she was arrested by National Crime Agency officers on 12 June 2020.
She was arrested as part of Operation Venetic – the NCA-led UK response to the takedown of the encrypted communications platform EncroChat.
Soon after Operation Venetic began, it became clear there had been a leak.
Mottram not only told Jonathan Kay, 38, about the covert investigation – she told him that officers had intelligence on him too.
On 24 April 2020, a friend of Kay’s who cannot be named for legal reasons, messaged another EncroChat user to say he had learned that day about law enforcement infiltrating the platform.
The man is still wanted by the NCA and Greater Manchester Police on drugs offences.
Essex News and Investigations understands that he left the UK for Dubai around the time of the hack.
And he messaged a second contact: “I no [sic] a lady who works for the police. This is not hearsay. Direct to me. They can access Encro software. And are using to intercept forearms [sic] only at the moment. There [sic] software runs 48 hours behind real time. So have ur burns one day max. And try to avoid giving postcodes over it.”
‘Burns’ refers to the delete-time on messages.
He added: “Her words was are you on Encro, I said no why, I only sell a bit of bud. She said cool just giving you heads up. Because NCA now have access. But she wouldn’t lie.”
By 12 June 2020, NCA investigators suspected Mottram was responsible for the leak.
On that day, her bosses asked her to analyse an intelligence log referring to Kay who was the partner of Mottram’s close friend Leah Bennett, 38.
But the log was bogus and Mottram was under surveillance.
Mottram left work that afternoon and drove to Kay and Bennett’s house on Newark Drive, Great Sankey, Warrington. The three had met a few years before and grown close over a shared love of gym exercise. She had her own key to Kay and Bennett’s house and let herself in.
At 5.15pm Kay - who has convictions for driving offences and being drunk and disorderly - arrived home in his car with Bennett arriving seven minutes later in hers. The prosecution say this is when Mottram corruptly informed Kay and Bennett about the intelligence log concerning him.
Telecommunications data shows that at 5.26pm Bennett’s phone contacted a phone belonging to the partner of the man who cannot be named. This was the first time these devices had communicated in two years. It is believed the call was made to set up a meeting between Kay and the man because shortly after they met at a supermarket car park.
They walked around talking for 20 minutes before returning to their vehicles and leaving. Mottram, Kay, Bennett and the man were all arrested later that day and £200,000 in cash was recovered from Kay and Bennett’s house.
Using a variety of records such as cell site analysis and phone data to check where the suspects were and when, NCA investigators established that on 21 April Mottram and Kay were together at his house for nearly two hours. And that evening Kay and the unnamed man spoke on the phone.
On 24 April Mottram was again with Kay and Bennett at their home. Her computer records reveal she was working on Operation Venetic from their address. Kay (below) and the man spoke again on the phone later that day.
Mottram, of Vermont Close, Great Sankey, Warrington had clearly betrayed information about the secret Operation Venetic investigation.
On Friday, August 18, at Liverpool Crown Court, Mottram admitted misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and unauthorised access to computer material.
She will return to court in November to be sentenced along with Kay who admitted perverting the course of justice at an earlier hearing.
A charge of perverting the course of justice against Bennett lies on file and will be dropped when Mottram and Kay are sentenced.
John McKeon, head of the NCA’s anti-corruption unit, said: “Natalie Mottram betrayed her job, her colleagues and the public she was paid to protect.
“Her corrupt actions had the potential to hugely damage the overarching investigation by alerting offenders of the need to abandon EncroChat and cover their tracks.
“Operation Venetic was the deepest and broadest operation against organised crime the UK has ever seen, and has taken huge numbers of dangerous offenders off the streets. But Mottram clearly didn’t care about that. Her actions were disgraceful.
“Once we knew there was a leak we worked urgently to find out who it was.
“With the North West ROCU and Cheshire Police, once we suspected Mottram, we created a trap for her and she immediately walked into it.
“The evidence against her was overwhelming. She was left with no option but to finally plead guilty.”
Assistant Chief Constable Jo Edwards, head of the North West ROCU, said: “As part of this extensive investigation with the NCA’s anti-corruption unit and Cheshire Police, overwhelming evidence was obtained against Natalie Mottram, exposing her criminal actions. She had no other choice but to admit her wrongdoings at court.
“There is no place in policing for those who are corrupt, seeking to use their position for criminal purposes. Here at the NWROCU we expect our officers and staff to uphold the highest standards of professional behaviour, to maintain the trust and confidence of the communities we serve.
“Natalie’s actions fell far below the standards and values we expect. She has failed in her public duty, letting down her colleagues and the communities that we serve. Her actions were criminal, and she will now have to face the consequences for the rest of her life.
“Each and every day, our staff at the NWROCU serve our communities with the utmost integrity and honesty, but sadly the actions of Natalie Mottram have undermined the fantastic work we do on a daily basis.”
Detective Superintendent Helena Banusic, Head of Professional Standards at Cheshire Constabulary, said: “I welcome the guilty pleas entered by Mottram and I hope that her conviction provides reassurance to our communities.
“Mottram abused her position by accessing highly sensitive data which she then shared with people outside the organisation.
“Thankfully, as a result of the partnership work between Cheshire Constabulary, the NCA and the IoPC she has now been held accountable for her actions.
“As this case demonstrates nobody is above the law, and I want to reassure the public that we are committed to doing all we can to root out any officers or staff who fail to meet the high standards that the people of Cheshire expect and deserve.”
The NCA inquiry was part of an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IoPC) directed investigation.
Mottram started work at Cheshire Police in August 2017 as an apprentice.
In May 2018 she was seconded to the NW ROCU as an intelligence researcher.
Soon after all employees were sent a standard reminder never to search corporate systems for their own purposes. Mottram acknowledged the warning.
By 2020, her role was to conduct threat assessments of OCGs. She was briefed on the details of Operation Venetic and was advised about not widely discussing details of the sensitive operation.
As well as the crimes she has admitted, the evidence against her revealed she bought cannabis from a dealer whose phone number was saved in her mobile phone; had told Bennett about a murder file she had seen on her boss’s desk. And she also took selfies with her work computer visible and showing a document classified as ‘Official Sensitive’ meaning it required certain handling conditions.
So far under Operation Venetic, more than 1,100 offenders have been convicted.
There are many more suspects in the legal and judicial systems. In total, more than 3,000 arrests have been made across UK law enforcement and more than 2,000 suspects charged. So far more than 7,322 years of sentences have been given to UK offenders.
Drugs seizures include nearly six-and-a-half tonnes of cocaine, more than three tonnes of heroin and almost fourteen-and-a-half tonnes of cannabis.
One hundred-and-seventy-three firearms have been taken off UK streets along with almost 3,500 rounds of ammunition and more than £80m has been seized from organised crime groups.
These figures represent the collective efforts of the NCA, UK police forces, Regional Organised Crime Units, Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs and crucially the Crown Prosecution Service.
The man who cannot be named for legal reasons was previously summoned to appear at court where he was due to be charged with perverting the course of justice. He failed to attend.