Fazakerley drugs and firearms dealer jailed for more than 12 years

A man whose drugs and firearms deals were uncovered by the National Crime Agency after an encrypted communications platform was taken down by international law enforcement has been jailed.

Paul Sutton, 40, from Fazakerley, arranged the supply of cocaine and cannabis and attempted to buy firearms using the communication platform EncroChat.

Unbeknown to Sutton, his messages were recovered by French law enforcement and shared with the NCA as part of Operation Venetic.

NCA investigators reviewed the messages between the handle ‘Nuttyrose’ and other EncroChat users from January to June 2020. Using this information in conjunction with other lines of enquiry, the investigators proved Sutton was Nuttyrose.

Within the messages Sutton discussed purchasing at least a kilogram of cocaine to supply in north-west England, and he also bought and sold at least 11.5kg of cannabis. 

In one message exchange, Sutton requested guns that could be used with a silencer and that could “spray”. He subsequently sought to acquire an Uzi and a Tec-9 – both semi-automatic pistols capable of firing bullets rapidly – but messages revealed that the deals ultimately fell through due to the unavailability of a courier and the guns going out of stock.

Sutton discussed using cars with hidden compartments to move the drugs and firearms.

The NCA’s investigation found that the lock screen password for Sutton’s EncroChat phone included the name and birthday of his wife, while cell site data placed the phone at his home address.

Some of the messages exchanged between Nuttyrose and other users also betrayed Sutton’s identity.  In one exchange a user wished Nuttyrose a happy birthday on Sutton’s day of birth. In another conversation, Nuttyrose referenced “lads doing cinema room”.  When NCA Officers searched Sutton’s home address in July 2021 they found a hidden cinema room accessible behind a mirror.

NCA Officers searched two addresses linked to Sutton on 21 July 2021.

At his home address in Liverpool, they recovered two bags of high-purity cocaine with a street value of almost £21,000. They recovered a set of digital scales with traces of cocaine on it as well as £5,000 in cash from a bedroom drawer.

Assisted by Devon and Cornwall Police, NCA Investigators also searched Sutton’s holiday home – a caravan in Devon – from which they recovered £1,455 cash.

They arrested Sutton, who was in the caravan, and he was subsequently charged with drugs and firearms offences.

The money, totalling almost £7,000 was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Senior Investigating Officer, Dean Wallbank, said, “Sutton mistakenly believed EncroChat was a safe space to conduct his criminal business. Once the National Crime Agency had Nuttyrose’s messages, officers worked meticulously to identify who the user was and ensure that Sutton was brought to face justice.”

Confronted with the compelling evidence presented by the prosecution, Sutton pleaded guilty to five of the six charges against him at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday, 25 March.

He was sentenced that same day to a total of 12 years and six months in prison.

Operation Venetic has been the UK’s deepest ever penetration of organised crime groups, which cause so much damage to our society.

So far almost 1,500 offenders have been convicted and there are many more suspects in the legal and judicial systems.

In total, more than 3,300 arrests have been made and more than 2,000 suspects charged in the UK.

Over 10,600 years of sentences have been given to offenders.

Drugs seizures include nearly six-and-a-half tonnes of cocaine, more than three tonnes of heroin and over twenty 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 £84m has been seized from organised crime groups. Over 200 threats to life were averted.

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.

Image: Paul Sutton

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