INVESTIGATION: How was Encrochat firearms suspect who was on licence from prison allowed to abscond?
A DEFENDANT in the country's biggest ever suspected organised crime operation was able to abscond after being bailed despite being on licence from prison when arrested and subsequently charged with a firearms offence.
Tattooed bodybuilder Clinton Blakey, 35, (pictured above) is on the run after the National Crime Agency (NCA) issued a public appeal to find him when he failed to turn up to court.
Blakey, from Leeds, was one of more than 1,000 people arrested by police forces across the country as part of the NCA Operation Venetic into alleged users of encrypted mobile phone system Encrochat.
He was on licence after being released early from prison when he was arrested on suspicion of being involved in firearms supply on July 29.
But, he was bailed after being charged and a series of delays and missed opportunities to recall him to prison allowed him to abscond before he was due at Leeds Magistrates' Court.
The NCA issued an appeal for information about his whereabouts in which it referred to Blakey as a "suspected firearms criminal" and said he had been "charged with offences relating to the supply of firearms in the Yorkshire and Merseyside areas."
APPEAL: The NCA release, which it later said was misleading about the charge (NCA)
NCA Operations Manager, Nigel Coles, said: “Clinton Blakey, who is suspected of being involved in the illegal supply of firearms, is now trying to evade justice.
"If you know where he is, or have any information that might help us catch him please get in touch as a matter of urgency.”
Under prison recall anyone who is out on licence could have it revoked from the point of any new arrest.
Private companies working for the Prison and Probation Service revoke licences and issue prisoner recalls before police arrest and return them to prison.
Blakey was arrested by West Yorkshire Police on behalf of the NCA which was investigating firearms supply.
The NCA alerted West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (WYCRC) by email before the arrest, to try to ensure a swift recall, but the company's offender manager it contacted was on annual leave, so the message was missed.
COOL: Blakey poses with a supercar on his Facebook page (Clinton Blakey/Facebook)
When the NCA did notify WYCRC on the day of the arrest, the company said it would revoke Blakey's licence only if he were charged, after his solicitor made stiff representations of innocence.
An NCA spokeswoman said: "Prior to his arrest and in the days that followed, numerous applications were made by the NCA for Blakey to be recalled to prison."
However, when pressed on why Blakey was given bail as it was likely his prison licence would be revoked once he was charged, an NCA spokesman described its own appeal as "misleading" and downplayed the seriousness of the charge.
He added that if he had been charged firearms possession or actual direct firearms supply he would have been remanded.
We asked the NCA about the case after a former custody sergeant raised concerns after reading the agency's appeal.
The CPS said on August 24 it approved him being charged with an offence relating to the supply of firearms under section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 - providing a courier which helped others obtain a rifle and ammunition.
However, there was a two day gap before he was formally charged when the NCA alerted WYCRC to the charge.
But despite facing a serious charge and imminent recall to prison, West Yorkshire Police, the NCA and the CPS concluded Blakey did not meet a "threshold" to be held in police custody overnight to appear at magistrate's court next morning. The local force released him on strict bail conditions, including residence at a specific address with a curfew, and signing on at Elland Road police station, Leeds, to appear at the court on October 29.
Steve Morris, a former Met Police DS who had 25 years service including acting as a custody sergeant, said: "You have to take all information together, including the licence and likelihood of recall.
"Anything to do with firearms is serious.
"I would not, under any circumstances, consider granting bail, there is no clearer case for keeping someone in custody."
A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "The custody officer who will make the final decision on the basis of representations made by the investigating officer and (CPS) legal guidance.
"Based on available evidence, the custody officer determined that the ‘belief’ test for a breach of bail was not met.
"No representations were made by the NCA investigating officer for the subject to be remanded into custody for court."
Meanwhile, Blakey's offender manager at WYCRC sought advice about whether it was a "standard recall" due to the seriousness of the charge.
But there was a delay of eight days before the recall was issued.
A WYCRC spokesman said: "Due to an administrative error there was a delay in our recall process.
"We have implemented a change to processes to ensure that this error does not occur again.”
MISSING: Have you seen Clinton Blakey? (NCA)
However, he said the delay had no impact on Blakey being released on bail. On September 3 WYCRC revoked Blakey's licence and it was added to the Police National Computer (PNC) that Blakey was wanted for recall next day. Blakey had signed on at the police station on August 31, as per bail, but he did not show up on September 3, a day before the recall. West Yorkshire Police never informed the NCA that Blakey was no longer complying. The NCA made no checks with the force to see if he was complying or had been recalled. The first the NCA learned of Blakey's absconding was on October 28 when solicitor Ian Anderson informed it in writing that he would not be attending court next day He failed to appear on October 29 and another warrant was issued for his arrest. The West Yorkshire Police spokesman added: "We were informed of the recall on September 4. "Arrest enquiries have been made since.” The NCA spokeswoman added: "It is not the responsibility of the NCA to oversee this process and it would not be common practice, nor feasible, for the NCA to check in with a force. "We awaited notification that the recall was complete."
We messaged Blakey on Facebook, but got no response. We also tried to contact Blakey through Mr Anderson who said: "it would not be appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing case." Anyone with information on Blakey’s whereabouts should contact the National Crime Agency on 0370 496 7622 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.