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#Encrochat terrifying drugs sting operation sets a dangerous precedent for the right to a fair trial

The 36-year-old father-of-two opened it to find six Metropolitan Police officers with battering equipment. One of the cops immediately arrested and handcuffed him, while the remaining officers searched his house. Later that day, he was charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs based on messages police allege were sent via an EncroChat encrypted phone.

There have been over 4,000 arrests across Britain since French authorities covertly accessed the encrypted phone network, EncroChat.

They obtained around 100 million messages, many of which were about drug trafficking. Cops went on to raid hundreds of houses, often bringing along a photographer to turn this traumatic event into a highly-visible PR stunt. 

Defendants in Encrochat cases and their legal teams are unable to access crucial digital evidence in the case against them. Unbelievably, Mehmet’s seen no physical evidence whatsoever of his alleged criminal activity, despite spending eight months’ on remand. His disclosure bundle contains only a printout of the alleged messages.

Hakan Yildirim, Mehmet’s brother, says:

“The police didn’t find any drugs or Encrochat devices in his or his co-defendants’ possession. There was no cash, no surveillance. Nothing. It’s literally this printout and some cell site [phone location] data from a couple of years ago: this means there’s literally no way of testing – or double-checking – the accuracy of the evidence against him, which is unheard of in a modern British court.”

Mehmet denies ever possessing an EncroChat device. In fact, he sustained a serious brain injury in 2015 and psychologists have deemed him unfit to enter a plea at his trial. Hakan says, “Despite his limited mental capacity, the Metropolitan Police attributed five EncroChat handles [accounts] to him. One of them sent a photo of a jar of honey in summer 2020 and officers found an identical brand of honey inside his house in April 2022.”

“But that doesn’t prove he sent the messages,” he says, “there were five Turkish labourers living and working at the premises during that time period. The police didn’t bother investigating them, not even the guy who returned to his home country soon after news of the hack emerged.”

Mehmet’s case isn’t a one-off: there are hundreds of Encrochat defendants across Britain who deny ever possessing a device.

The criminal case against them is based entirely on messages and cell site data with no other evidence of illegality. Hakan says, “There’s no way to test the reliability of these alleged messages. We’re told we have to take it all at face value. How do we know an overworked officer – on a laptop somewhere – hasn’t made a typo or mistake? In fact, how do we know they’re even messages in the first place?”

“To me, a few sheets of paper – and a promise that it’s a list of messages – isn’t evidence. There needs to be more to corroborate this allegation,” he argues.

It’s well-established that individuals and software often have a major influence on the reliability of data generated. Thus, barristers have repeatedly asked the National Crime Agency (NCA) for evidence on how authorities obtained and processed Encrochat data. An independent digital forensics expert can test the reliability of the evidence and the method of acquisition to ensure defendants receive a fair trial, lawyers say.

They also argue that law enforcement agencies wishing to conceal their method – and thus use data that can’t be tested by defendants – should use their findings only as intelligence, so they can find testable evidence.

For example, authorities rarely reveal the identity of undercover cops, instead electing to carry out well-timed raids.

Yet the NCA steadfastly refuses to disclose the digital investigation method, claiming it’s a “defence secret”. Officers do, however, admit that the data was passed between at least three foreign law enforcement organisations, before being decrypted in Britain.

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