13 Sep 2023

Five men have gone on trial at Minshull Street Crown Court accused of drugs and firearm offences, while two others have pleaded guilty to various charges
An EncroChat gang sold millions of pounds-worth of drugs and moved nearly 100 guns in the 'highest level of criminal firearm trafficking ever encountered by law enforcement in the UK', prosecutors allege. The Manchester-based group is alleged to have been involved in the supply of class A and B drugs and firearms across the country.
Members planned to set up an importation route into the UK to 'expand their business', jurors have been told. The group's alleged crimes are said by prosecutors to have been carried out between January and June 2020.
Trial jurors have been told messages obtained from the hack into the encrypted EncroChat system reveals the extent of alleged criminality. Five men have gone on trial at Minshull Street Crown Court accused of drugs and firearm offences, while two others have pleaded guilty to various charges.
The five defendants on trial are:
Mohammed Omar Malik, 33, of St Mary's Parsonage, Manchester city centre, denies conspiracy to possess firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life; conspiracy to supply cocaine; conspiracy to supply MDMA; and conspiracy to supply amphetamine
Daniel Gibbons, 39, of Wordsworth Road, Reddish, Stockport, denies conspiracy to possess firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life; conspiracy to supply cocaine; conspiracy to supply MDMA; and conspiracy to supply amphetamine
Daniel Waters, 41, of Broom Avenue, Reddish, Stockport, denies conspiracy to possess firearms or ammunition with intent to endanger life; and conspiracy to supply MDMA
Sean Hogan, 40, of West Park, Denton, Tameside, denies conspiracy to supply firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life; and being concerned in the supply of cocaine and ketamine
Andrew Cooney, of Oakfield Close, Alderley Edge, 39, denies conspiracy to possess firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply MDMA, conspiracy to supply amphetamine. He has pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine
The jury has heard two men earlier pleaded guilty to the charges they faced. They are:
Conor Sandlan, 32, of Redfearn Wood, Rochdale, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life; conspiracy to supply cocaine; conspiracy to supply MDMA, and conspiracy to supply amphetamine
Adrian Gonzales, 32, of City Road East, Manchester city centre, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life; conspiracy to supply cocaine; conspiracy to supply MDMA; and conspiracy to supply amphetamine
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Prosecutor John Elvidge told the court: "The group were selling drugs in high volume, particularly cocaine in kilo quantities at prices between £36k and £40.5k per kilo at wholesale level. These defendants are not street dealers, although that is where their product could go – onto the streets of Manchester; the north west; north east; Scotland, the Midlands; London and the south."
He told jurors the 'business' kept ledgers in the 'note' section of their encrypted phones. The notes would indicate the scale and value of the operation, the court heard.
Mr Elvidge added: "One note recovered from an encrypted device used by Mohammed Malik shows that between January 13 and May 16 2020, payments for the supply of 739 kilos of cocaine – nearly three quarters of a tonne – to a large customer base. At wholesale prices of £36k per kilo or more, it could be sold for £25m and sold at street level for £70m."
The group also allegedly traded in firearms, particularly Škorpion and Grand Power guns, the court heard. "Evidence shows this group acquired 41 Grand Power pistols around March 7 2020 for around £147k, and offered for sale at between £5k and £8.5k each – and most sold to various individuals," the prosecutor told jurors.
"The group also acquired 32 Škorpion machine pistols, in more than one batch, and by may 2020 had sold at least 48 of them between £9k and £15k. These quantities of fully automatic firearms sold with compatible ammunition, puts this group operation amongst the highest level of criminal firearm trafficking ever encountered by law enforcement in the UK."
The initial police investigation began after officers were tipped off an apartment at Cotton Field Wharf, in Ancoats, was being used as a place to stash items, the jury heard. On April 22 2020, CCTV showed a man meeting Conor Sandlan near that property, the court was told.
He was stopped in West Yorkshire that afternoon, the prosecutor added. His van was searched and a gun and a number of bullets were found, jurors were told. "The gun was a working semi-automatic black Slovakian-made Grand Power 9mm handgun – exactly the type of gun stocked, marketed and sold by these defendants," Mr Elvidge said.
Mr Sandlan was arrested at his home on Redfearn Wood, Rochdale, and an Encrophone also seized, the court heard. When news of his arrest reached the 'higher orders' of the group, steps were taken to move cash, drugs and guns from the 'stash house', jurors were told.
Following further surveillance, Mr Malik was arrested at his St Mary's Parsonage home in Manchester city centre on June 14, 2020, jurors were told. He pointed out an iPhone, but refused to reveal the over the pin, the court heard.
An EncroPhone was later found stuffed down a seat cushion, the prosecutor told jurors. Police also seized £15,000 in cash; 'high-value' jewellery; and drugs, the court heard.
Daniel Gibbons and Daniel Waters were arrested the following day at Mr Gibbon's home on Wordsworth Road, Reddish, Stockport, the court heard. Mr Waters was wearing a black rubber glove, jurors were told.
Following his arrest, Mr Gibbons was asked if there was anything at his home, jurors heard, to which it is alleged he replied: "There are a load of tablets upstairs in the cupboard in the bedroom… also some cocaine and some guns … and there's some amphetamine in the fridge."
Police later recovered two Škorpion sub-machine pistols; two self-loading pistols; two magazines containing ammunition; 12 large bags of frozen amphetamine; and a suitcase containing over £600,000 in cash, the court heard.
Officers then searched Mr Water's home on Broom Avenue, Reddish, and found a handwritten account list; cash-counting machines; a vacuum packing machine; and lease documentation for a unit at Welkin Mill in Stockport, home to 'Global Trades UK', the court heard. That was a 'cover', jurors were told.
Another member of the group was arrested at his home on City Road East in the city centre, jurors heard, after he was seen attempting to drive away in his Mercedes. Officers later found an EncroPhone hidden in a car belonging to Adrian Gonzales at his mother's home, the court heard.
On June 25 2020, police arrested Andrew Cooney at his home on Oakfield Close, Alderley Edge, Cheshire, the court was told. A search of his home; his Porsche Macan; Porsche Cayman; and Audi RS A3 uncovered a kilo of cocaine; luxury watches; phones; a vaccuum packing machine; and paperwork for an Italian villa, jurors were told.
Sean Hogan was arrested on June 25, 2020 at his home on West Park Avenue, Denton, Tameside, the court heard. Jurors were told officers found two Tasers; phones; a couple of wraps of cocaine; and cash in various currencies.
Officers were able to hack into EncroPhones alleged to have been used by the group, the court heard, and analysed messages and movements via cell site data. EncroChat users, the court heard, have their own 'handles'.
"We say Mohammed Malik used the handle 'payyabills'; Adrian Gonzalez used the handle 'terryf******tibbs'; Conor Sandlan used the handle 'stellarboat'; Daniel Gibbons used the handle 'humblewaffle'; Daniel Waters used the handle 'obscuretwig'; Andrew Cooner used the handle 'fernpirate'; and Sean Hogan used the handle 'dullhyena'," Mr Elvidge told the court.
The Crown says an unknown person using the handle 'mr.miaghi' was at the top of the chain, but alleged Mr Malik worked alongside him and discussed stock, prices and the impact of Covid on the 'world of crime'. The men on trial deny attribution of the handles and dispute the reliability of the data obtained by police.
Gonzales, the jury heard, played a 'pivotal role' and took directions from Mr Malik. He admitted the charges he faced. Sandlan, who also pleaded guilty to the charges he faced, was a 'trusted courier', as was Mr Gibbons, the jury heard, before he was used to set up the Global Trades UK business.
Mr Waters is alleged to have been a courier and worked alongside Mr Gibbons. Mr Cooney is alleged to have acted as a broker. Mr Hogan is alleged to have been involved in buying and selling goods.
The trial continues

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