Secret messages from EncroChat can be used in gangland trials, judges rule

Publication Date08 February 2021
Last year, the communications network was exposed in one of the biggest modern breakthroughs in the war on organised crime.

Hundreds of suspects have since been arrested - Encrochat hack exposes dad-of-two as UK drug boss 'AtomicMantis' over claims linked to gun, drugs and violence plots.

But while detectives have sought to use the hacked messages to dismantle the underworld, a separate battle has been waged through the courts.

Lawyers have battled over whether the data EncroChat unlocked: Gangland untouchables exposed as police read secret texts of assassins and drug smugglers across Europe could actually be used in trials by prosecutors in the UK.

That fight reached its most crucial stage so far on Friday, when the Court of Appeal ruled evidence obtained through the EncroChat hack could be put before juries.

The verdict may have a dramatic impact on some of the most serious criminal cases currently going through the judicial system.

The shadowy network that allowed top rung criminals to thwart detectives

EncroChat was a secretive communications platform said by the authorities to have been beloved by the underworld.

Users required mobile phones loaded with specialist software -devices that would cost hundreds of pounds to buy and up to £3,000-a-year to run.

The firm had a website but no sales list and questions still remain over how they were distributed.

Highly secure, EncroChat devices would appear to have the standard features of a mobile phone.

But hidden software could also be accessed that allowed users -who operated under usernames -to send messages and photos to each other.

Those messages were encrypted while they were being sent between devices -a feature of many communications platforms including WhatsApp.

Messages were deleted after a designated period, typically seven days, while further privacy features included a double password requirement and a 'kill pill' code which, if entered, would wipe the device.

While the phones were not illegal to own they were so elusive and expensive that crime-fighting agencies across Europe have long viewed them as a tool of gangland, though this is disputed by some campaigners.

How many of the 10,000 phones believed to have been in operation in the UK were used by criminals is unknown, but there is no doubt that some gangsters and killers saw EncroChat as indispensable.

Back in 2018 the Liverpool Crown Court trial centred on the gangland executions of John Kinsella and Paul Massey heard how detectives were being repeatedly thwarted by the devices -with Merseyside identified as a key distribution hub for them.

The network's success at repelling the efforts of police helped EncroChat become increasingly notorious -and many of its users to become more and more complacent as a result.

How everything changed following a discovery on French and Belgian border

Their faith in the software was misplaced, however.

In late 2019 French police discovered technology -a server -used to help run the EncroChat system in the northern border city of Roubaix.

The How the EncroChat hack unfolded after a police...

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