Operation Harlech: Encrochat case conspiring to supply class A drugs

In May 2021 Operation Harlech was the very first “encrochat” case that concluded in Wales. The operation formed a part of the wide reaching “Operation Venetic” which has been described by the National Crime Agency as the “UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation”. The operation involved 746 arrests, the seizure of over two tonnes of drugs and the seizure of over £54 million in cash.

What are “encro” phones?

They are high grade mobile phones costing a couple of thousand pounds per handset. They were until 2020 largely used by Organised Crime Groups (OCG’s) in order to communicate with each other in particular by text messages. They were thought to be unbreakable by the authorities. During 2020, French authorities went to a Judge, got legal permission, and found a way to get behind that wall of secrecy. The National Crime Agency in this country had an agreement with the French Authorities that they would send all captured data for a certain period of time from any handset geo-located in the United Kingdom.

The case:

SCM Law represented one of the defendants facing prosecution as part of Operation Harlech. The charges faced were conspiring to supply class A controlled drugs namely cocaine and diamorphine (heroin). The prosecution case was that drugs had been sourced and transported to South Wales from London for onward distribution in Cardiff, Swansea and West Wales.

The Defendants within Operation Harlech were alleged to be involved in the onward supply of drugs and faced seemingly incriminating “encrochat” evidence. Careful consideration had to be given to the legal authorities arising from the ongoing “Operation Venetic” case which sought to challenge of the admissibility of the “encrochat” evidence.

Although guilty pleas were entered thereby accepting criminal involvement, there was a necessity for the Crown Court at Cardiff to hear live evidence from our client in order to establish his precise role for sentencing purposes within the operation.

This was a case involving the review and assessment of considerable quantities of evidence served by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of their case. The evidence involved witness statements and exhibits including raw telephone data and ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) data.