A crime gang who dressed as key workers to avoid capture and joked about a weekly clap for drug dealers have been jailed.
Andrew Doyle, 35, from Hammersmith, north London, used the name “Neighbourhoodhero” on a secret encrypted messaging network while carrying out cocaine deals at the height of lockdown last year.
He exchanged messages with Derrick Canning, 50, from Isleworth, west London, as they sold drugs across London.
In one conversation in April last year, Doyle asked Canning: “Mate, do you have a high vis and stuff for the van? And like builder clothes? We need to look official in times like this.”
Another messsage sees Doyle mention a friend working for the NHS who has an NHS pass if he is stopped and says that “driving through London, old bill are everywhere…pulling people”.
The messages were exchanged on the Encrochat network, an encrypted system that was brought down by law enforcement last year after a successful hack by French investigators.
The tactic of criminals disguising themselves as key workers has been highlighted in Coronation Street, when Leanne stole a nurse’s uniform to avoid being stopped.
Doyle and Canning were jailed at Kingston Crown Court on Monday along with mother and son Catherine Roche, 63, and Joe Roche, 29, who both dealt with the gang’s cash.
Joe Roche, who used the handle “Cremebrulee”, was in regular contact with Doyle and joked about clapping for drug dealers during the height of the first lockdown.
All four were arrested during raids on their homes in June last year, which saw nearly 50,000 MDMA pills, cash, a cash counting machine, encrypted phones and Rolex watches seized.
Matt McMillan, manager of joint Met Police and National Crime Agency squad the Organised Crime Partnership, said: “We believe this group distributed huge amounts of drugs across parts of London and the Home Counties.
“Evidence showed that they plotted to continue their operation during the first and strictest UK lockdown. A risk that didn’t pay off in the end.
“The trade in class A drugs fuels violence and exploitation and today’s sentences are yet another example of the NCA and Met Police working together to protect the public from this threat.”
Doyle was sentenced to 12 years and nine months for conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to facilitate the acquisition of criminal property, as well as five years and seven months for possession of criminal property to run concurrently.
Canning was jailed for eight years for conspiracy to supply cocaine; Catherine Roche, of Townmead Road, Fulham, south-west London was sentenced to four years and nine months for possession of criminal property, and four years for possession with intent to supply MDMA to run concurrently.
Joe Roche, of the same address, was jailed for eight years for conspiracy to supply cocaine; and to run concurrently five years and seven months for possession with intent to supply of MDMA, and three years and seven months for possession with intent to supply cocaine.