Three men have been jailed for more than 47 years as part of the Merseyside Police response to Operation Venetic: an international operation targeting criminals who used a mobile encryption device to try and evade detection.
Jonathan McKeown, aged 36, of Waterloo; Ashley Moorcroft, aged 33, of Wavertree; and Craig Murray, aged 41 of Netherton, were all arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs at their respective home addresses on Saturday 6 May 2021 following an extensive investigation into their drug dealing using Encrochat.
McKeown was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Moorcroft was jailed for 19-and-a-half years and Murray for eight-and-a-half years at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday.
McKeown, who used the Encrochat handle Bushtern, was a plumber who discussed using his employment as a cover so he could continue to travel on the roads and supply drugs during the pandemic lockdown. Following his arrest £12,750 in cash was seized from his address which was subsequently forfeited.
Just under £9,000 was seized from Moorcroft’s address who used the Encrochat handle rustypalace, as well as an Audi vehicle, and numerous items of designer jewellery and clothing.
More than £36,000 in cash was also seized from Murray’s address who used the handle microblue after a warrant was executed in June 2020 bringing the total amount of cash recovered from the three men to over £70,000.
McKeown and Moorcroft played leading roles in a significant drugs conspiracy which involved the movement of class A and B drugs throughout the country.
Murray worked as a courier on behalf of Moorcroft; collecting, storing and delivering drugs and cash.
Officers pinned the handle ‘microblue’ to Murray after reading he sent photos of a cottage in Wales where he stayed and a hot tub he had purchased on eBay, both of which investigators were then able to link to him.
Messages shared between McKeown and Moorcroft revealed that they were conspiring to supply significant quantities of cocaine, heroin and cannabis. Numerous images were shared by both men of the drugs they had available for sale such as the image of a 1kg block of cocaine stamped with 2020, sent from McKeown to the handle violetclaw on Monday 20 April 2020.
Within their messages, both McKeown and Moorcroft revealed plans for different ways of storing and transporting drugs. Moorcroft at one point discussed the possibility of acquiring a plane to transport drugs from Morocco to mainland Europe. He also sent the following message to another Encrochat user on selling kilo quantities of cannabis during the pandemic lockdown in 2020.
“You want be a trooper an gain a lil extra 100/200er on bits seeing as no one’s working and we are you just charge six plus.”
Detective Sergeant Dan Pilling said, “McKeown, Moorcroft and Murray clearly never suspected that police would uncover their messages and plans to sell and supply their vast quantities of drugs that could have endangered families and residents in our communities.
“They used the pandemic to enjoy a lavish lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable people across the country.
“These lengthy jail terms prove that crime does not pay, and we are committed in stopping those who try to profit from the sale of illegal drugs.
“Despite the increasing number of people sentenced for these crimes across Merseyside our work still continues along with law enforcement agencies across the world, to pursue anyone who tries to forge a lifestyle that destroys lives and families.
“Serious organised crime is not a lifestyle of choice and we will target anyone involved to ensure it is stamped out of our streets, businesses and communities.”
Main image: (L-R) Craig Murray, Ashley Moorcroft, and Jonathan McKeown