Hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of cocaine have been seized and more than 30 people arrested across the region as police swooped on organised crime gangs in the south west.

Armed police raided a number of homes in Bristol and Somerset during operation acting on intelligence gathered through the interrogation of EncroChat, an encrypted communication service used by criminals to arrange deals.

In Bath and Bristol, 11 people suspected of being involved in a conspiracy to supply wholesale amounts of Class A drugs in the region and launder hundreds of thousands of pounds were arrested. 

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Gun seized in Bath Picture: SW ROCU

Detectives seized encrypted phones, a Glock handgun and silencer, 8kg of what is thought to be cocaine, 4kg of suspected crystal meth and high value cars. Half a million pounds in cash has been seized.

Another operation saw three men from Weston-super-Mare, Shirehampton and Portishead arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply class A drugs and money laundering. Rolex watches were seized from two of the men and £30,000 found at the Shirehampton home.

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£30,000 cash was seized in Shirehampton Picture: SW ROCU

In Bournemouth, 11 people were arrested for firearms and drugs offences.

A man and woman from Dorset were stopped in their car in south London, arrested, and £80,000 cash seized from their vehicle. It led to more homes being raided in Bournemouth and Christchurch.

'Protecting communities'

Det Supt Tina Robinson, head of the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: “These results are part of a phenomenal effort across law enforcement in the past few months, which has seen us target organised criminals based in our area, as well as support the wider network to disrupt those that harm our region.  And this work continues.

“Criminals using these devices, which have a kill code to enable them to be wiped remotely, thought they could communicate freely and securely.  Instead, they have provided evidence that could undoubtedly see them locked up for years and the wealth they’ve acquired stripped away.

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Kilo blocks of cocaine seized in Bath Picture: SW ROCU

“Intimidation and violence go hand in hand with serious and organised crime – that’s clear when you look at the weapons seized both here and across the country.  By collectively dismantling these groups, lives have been saved and communities across the region have been protected.”

Across the region, detectives have seized two guns, 17kg cocaine, 5kg MDMA, £790,000 cash and several high value cars and jewellery.

What is EncroChat?

The heavily-encrypted mobile phone service is said to cost users around £3,000 a year, with the mobile phones unlocked using two passwords and calls or messages sent via internet data rather than the telephone network making it harder to track.

The phones have a "kill code", allowing data to be wiped from the device. 

Last year, it was reported the service was being used by Gloucestershire drug dealers.

In May, a Dutch crime blog reported that users of the service had been sent a warning that police forces had managed to hack the system. 

Today, the National Crime Agency's Matt Horne said the agency had worked closely with international partners. 

“By working together we have had tremendous success in penetrating and disrupting organised criminal networks, arresting the ‘kingpins’, seizing huge amounts of criminal cash, stopping firearms and drugs reaching our streets and protecting the people of the south west,” he said.