The ringleaders of an Ellesmere Port based Organised Crime Gang (OCG) who led their commercial drugs operation through EncroChat have been jailed.
James Webb, 32, and Thomas Riley, 31, appeared at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday 15 November where they were sentenced to a combined total of more than 19 years in prison.
Webb, of Ellesmere Port, was jailed for 12 years and six months after earlier pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply class A drugs (heroin and cocaine), one count of conspiracy to supply a class B drug (cannabis) and a further count of possession of cannabis with intent to supply.
Riley, of Ellesmere Port, was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after he admitted conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
The investigation into the pair began in May 2020 when international law enforcement officers, working with the National Crime Agency, infiltrated a previously encrypted data system known as EncroChat.
Following the breakthrough, officers discovered thousands of messages posted by criminals across the world – including Webb and Riley.
After reviewing the data officers conducted a series of raids in Ellesmere Port on Tuesday 11 May 2021, resulting in the arrest of Webb and Riley along with a number of other men.
During a subsequent investigation it was established that Webb, who used the handles ‘Quasitractor’ and ‘Mothvodka’, was the leader of the OCG.
He sourced multi-kilo amounts of cocaine, heroin, and cannabis which was then distributed to dealers and addicts across Chester and Ellesmere Port.
Riley was also a key player in the gang, specifically managing the supply of cocaine in the Ellesmere Port area, using the handle ‘Unawaregiraffe’ to take orders from street dealers across the town.
Riley would then arrange for other members of the gang to collect and prepare the drugs, before distributing them to dealers.
The imprisonment of Webb and Riley follows the sentencing of three other men who were also key members of the gang.
Joseph Bowen, Christian Minshull, and Samuel Sharples were sentenced to a combined total of 26 years and six months for their roles in the conspiracy.
Minshull, predominantly a customer of the gang, would order bulk supplies which he would then distribute to dealers predominantly in the Chester area.
The 32-year-old, of Chester, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at Chester Crown Court on 11 May 2021 after he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply class A drugs (heroin and cocaine) and one count of conspiracy to supply the class B drug (cannabis).
Bowen and Sharples were both Class A couriers and managed stash houses for the gang.
Sharples, known by the handle ‘Sickrabbit’ specifically managed cocaine, while Bowen, who was known by the handle ‘Impossiblejaw’ looked after heroin, cocaine and cannabis.
Between them, they would collect the drugs and prepare them for onward sale before distributing them across the area.
Bowen also distributed cannabis in bulk amounts to street-level suppliers in Ellesmere Port.
31-year-old Sharpes, of Chester, was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison after he admitted conspiracy to supply class A drugs (cocaine) on 8 June 2021.
Bowen, aged 31, of Whitby, was jailed for seven years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs (heroin and cocaine) and conspiracy to supply class B drugs (cannabis) on 4 February 2022.
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Murray, of Cheshire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said, “The sentencing of Webb and Riley today brings to a conclusion what has been an extremely complex investigation and I welcome the sentences that have been handed to all five men.
“Webb, Riley, Sharpes, Bowen and Webb were all key players in the large-scale commercial drugs business supplying substantial amounts of cocaine, heroin and cannabis in the Chester and Ellesmere Port areas.
“They used EncroChat believing that they could operate under the radar, using an encrypted and sophisticated device that would keep his communication secretive in order to avoid detection.
“However, after EncroChat was infiltrated officers were able to comb through all of the messages and reveal their illegal activities, meaning that they are now facing a combined total of more than 44 years behind bars.
“This shows, that no matter what you think you are doing to cover your tracks, we are one step ahead. We will do everything we can to make sure that each member of these OCGs pay for the misery that they bring to communities across Cheshire.”
Anyone with information about drug activity in their community is urged to contact Cheshire Police via https://www.cheshire.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/soh/seen-or-heard/
Information on what we’re doing to stop serious and organised crime can be viewed here: https://www.cheshire.police.uk/police-forces/cheshire-constabulary/areas/cheshire/campaigns/campaigns/2019/impact/
Images: Cheshire Constabulary