A HIGHLY-sophisticated £1million drugs gang with 30kg of cocaine used underworld encrypted devices to organise their operation - has been taken down by police after a painstaking probe.

Today, the Echo can lift the lid on the gang and what police found as part of their lengthy investigation.

Seven members of the gang were jailed this week for a range of crimes, including conspiracy to supply Class A and Class B drugs, transferring criminal property, possession of a prohibited firearm, and money laundering.

The gang was led by Michael “Positivity” Read, who worked with importers to arrange for large quantities of cocaine to be collected.


The Grays man worked with Mark “Firefingers” Gooch of Pilgrims Hatch. He managed and organised drug-runners, prepared cocaine and transported money.

The gang organised their activities with encrypted messages, which were used to coordinate their crimes, while working under pseudonyms to hide their identities. Operations were run out of a container within a secured yard in east London. Essex Police intercepted messages that showed the gang had paid more than £100,000 for 3kg of cocaine in March or April 2020, and sold it for £180,000.

Other messages showed them discussing how to import and transport tens of kilos of cocaine, along with images of drugs and vacuumpacked bags of cash.

During the investigation, different members of the gang were also witnessed carrying out drug deals.


The investigation came out of Operation Venetic, a major operation dedicated to cracking criminals’ encrypted messages The Essex gang used EncroChat, a secure mobile phone instant messaging service which once had 60,000 users worldwide, including around 10,000 in the UK. Before being forced to shut down in 2020 it was mainly used for co-ordinating and planning criminal activities such as money laundering.

International law enforcement agencies began working together in 2016 to target EncroChat and similar platforms. After four years agencies in France and the Netherlands infiltrated EncroChat, and shared shared information with police and other law enforcement agencies across the globe.

As a result of police being able to read encrypted messages, at least 1,000 arrests have been made across Europe. Detective Sergeant Mike Monkton, from Essex Police’s serious and organised crime unit, said: “Drugs are a plague upon our society and those involved in their importation and sale are responsible for ruining lives and destroying communities.

“This group made hundreds of thousands of pounds from causing misery to others. This was a thorough, widespread, and complex investigation but in the end, due to the sheer amount of evidence we had compiled against them, 11 people were left with no option but to plead guilty to the charges against them.

“Essex Police is committed to identifying, targeting, and tackling those who import and sell drugs.

“We are tireless in this endeavour and our work to protect you and your community from this evil continues.”