The NCA launched its investigation earlier this year as part of Operation Venetic – the UK law enforcement response to the takedown of encrypted global communications service EncroChat. A plot to ‘hit back’ after a shooting in Salford was laid bare, as well as deals to sell an AK47, an Uzi sub machine gun and drugs conspiracies. Police extradited one gun runner from Spain after catching him in the Costa del Sol. Two packages were dug up in a back garden in Warrington, with a loaded Smith & Wesson pistol, a Grand Power semi-automatic pistol and ammunition being seized. The National Crime Agency said officers also recovered two AK47 assault rifles, an Uzi and Skorpion sub machine guns and 300 rounds of ammunition. Those caught out by the EncroChat hack are set to be sentenced in the New Year.
A trial being held at Manchester Crown Court ended as some men changed their pleas. “Get a location for this kid and we will end it,” was one of the chilling messages police found when law enforcement were able to hack into the system. Sent by Umair Zaheer to Brandon Moore, 24, and Jordan Waring, 23, it revealed how the latter two wanted revenge against a man after they were both shot in Kersal, Salford, last April. Zaheer, 34, from Eccles, was helping them in their bid to ‘hit back’. An EncroChat message from a device used by Moore and Waring said: “Oh yes he’s a dead man.”
The plot ultimately came to nothing. Another EncroChat message unmasked Zaheer as a gun runner. Using the EncroChat handle ‘Assassin’s creed’, Zaheer sent a list of weapons for sale to another user, including an Uzi, a Skorpion machine gun and an AK47. Robert Brazendale worked with Zaheer and acted as a courier and driver. He used a red Citroen van for the handover of an AK47 and ammunition, in a £10,500 deal. Brazendale was responsible for taking £37,000 in cash during a handover in a Tesco car park. A deal to buy a Skorpion, Uzi and revolver had been agreed, with the meeting place being Tesco in Thelwall, Warrington, with Brazendale arriving on a bicycle. The deal was done, with the guns and ammunition later being found by police in Brent, London. A deal involving another AK47 was also uncovered.
The gun was later found by police in a roof void at a business park in Warrington. Another conspirator, Bilal Khan, sent a message to Zaheer after the seizure of the AK47. “Bro they found it. “Makes zero sense but NCA (the National Crime Agency) have that AK.” Hitesh Patel, 26, of Garden Lane, Chester, was arrested on Tuesday, October 20 along with two other men in the UK – Bilal Khan, 32, of Mersey Road, Didsbury, Manchester and Umair Zaheer, 33, of Somerset Road, Eccles, Manchester. All three have been charged with conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life or to enable another person to endanger life. Brazendale was brought back to the UK to face justice, after being arrested in Estepona on the Costa del Sol in October last year. Brazendale was arrested on his bicycle near to the Tesco Express on April 27 2020 in possession of an EncroChat phone. His storage container at Latchford Locks was then searched, with £17,000 in cash found inside. Brazendale was described by prosecution barrister Tim Storrie during his opening as a ‘gun runner associated with deals to supply the weaponry’ and the ‘keeper of the guns, money and other people’s secrets’. Mr Storrie added: “Together, Umair Zaheer and Robert Brazendale were dealing in astonishingly lethal arms. “These were not the weapons of casual thuggery. “They included assault rifles – with all of the terrible implications of that phrase – and machine guns capable of sustained rapid fire. “Singly, or in combination, they were guns and ammunition that were designed to wreak havoc of the most catastrophic kind. “Robert Brazendale’s role was to store weapons and be the point of contact between Zaheer, who had brokered the deals, and couriers who collected the weapons he sold.