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Denton man, 40, jailed for 24 years for being part of biggest gun-running plot ever seen in UK

A Denton man has been jailed for 24 years for his role in an organised crime group (OCG) responsible for drugs and firearms trafficking which experts claim to be amongst the very highest levels ever encountered by UK law enforcement.

Sean Hogan, of West Park, Denton, was found guilty of conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life and being concerned in the supply of cocaine and ketamine.

The 40-year-old also pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited weapon (Taser).

In a joint investigation between Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the National Crime Agency (NCA), the gang, who were attempting to expand their criminal network internationally, were taken down when messages from their encrypted mobile phones were infiltrated under Operation Venetic; the NCA led operation into EncroChat data – one of the largest providers of secure, encrypted communications.

Each of the men jailed today had their own role to play in this criminal enterprise, and their incriminating messages were systematically traced back to them, despite them denying the attribution of the handles below. 

The conspiracy began to unravel at the beginning of May 2020, following a referral from the NCA to GMP Serious Organised Crime Group (SOCG). Detectives began a period of surveillance between May – June 2020 which showed the OCG were involved in the supply of industrial volumes of drugs and the sale of firearms – including sub-machine guns, estimated to be in the range of almost £150k.

The stash house, located in Ancoats Marina, was used to store large quantities of class A and B drugs, firearms, ammunition and cash. From here, they’d deliver the commodities to customers across the country.

On Wednesday 22 April 2020, armed police conducted a search of a vehicle in West Yorkshire they believed to be linked to the operation.

Police recovered a black handgun, bullets, and large quantities of cash in the drivers footwell. The occupants were arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm and possession with intent to supply.

Later that evening, one of the culprits was arrested at his address in Rochdale and numerous messages were being sent about his arrest, with attempts to cover up and distance people’s involvement.

Messages like “Feds can’t get in them can they” were being sent, offering police an insight into the minds of the offenders. Thanks to the infiltration of the encrypted communications platform, police were already in and could see everything.

With the gang spooked by the arrest, they began to clear out the stash house, working out ways to bank almost £300k cash, and how to move the drugs and firearms.

On Thursday 25 June, officers arrested Hogan at an address Denton. Officers recovered a taser, a vacuum packing machine, large quantities of cash in different currencies, and high value items. Parked on his drive were two porches in which officers discovered quarter of a kilo of cocaine in.

Speaking in court, the firearms expert in the case said: “The evidence I have considered in this case leads me to the opinion that the organised crime group acquired 52 Scorpion machine pistols (in more than one batch) and again, having kept a small number for their own use, by May 2020 had sold at least 48 of these machine pistols to various criminal associates.

“There is evidence to suggest that the Skorpion sub-machine guns were being offered for sale for between approximately £9000 and £15,000 each.

“These quantities of fully automatic firearms with compatible ammunition would put this operation, to my knowledge, among the very highest level of criminal firearm trafficking ever encountered by law enforcement in the UK."

Detective Superintendent Joe Harrop, head of Serious Organised Crime at GMP, said: “These were very dangerous men who only cared about making vast amounts of money. They didn’t care how lethal their commodities were or the consequences for the communities and innocent people who would be irrevocably affected by this.

“They thought they were untouchable but working with colleagues from the NCA and the CPS North-West Complex Case Unit, we were able to systematically dismantle the group and show them this wasn’t the case.”

NCA Operations Manager Adrian Barnard said: “These men belonged to a dangerous network of criminals involved in the transfer of firearms and supply of drugs in the north west and across the UK.

“Sandlan was a major figure in this criminal enterprise. The wealth of contacts he used to transfer weapons across the country included criminals subsequently convicted following NCA investigations,

“It is chilling to see the volume of lethal weapons this criminal group moved, and we have seen the devastation that these kind of firearms can cause in the north west recently. However, gun crime in the UK continues to be relatively low compared to mainland Europe, and suppressing their availability to criminals is a priority for the NCA.

“We continue to work with policing partners to pursue the criminals involved in sourcing and supplying illegal firearms, and to remove weapons from circulation.”

Alan Richardson, Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West’s Complex Casework Unit, said: “This was a highly developed operation and the largest one I have dealt with in my career.

“The dismantling of this operation and the subsequent convictions and sentences are a testament to the hard work of the whole prosecution team, including Greater Manchester Police’s serious and organised crime group, the National Crime Agency, CPS North West, and the barristers who prosecuted the case at court, John Elvidge KC and Neil Fryman.

“The men used sophisticated methods to try to evade prosecution including the use of a safe house to store drugs and weapons and the use of Encrophones, to prevent their communications being accessed.

“I would like to thank and praise the professionalism of everyone who has helped to bring these men to justice.

“I hope these convictions and sentences send a strong message to others who are endangering our communities by distributing illicit drugs and weapons, we will prosecute and bring to justice those that operate outside the law.”

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