A man who supplied firearms to organised crime groups across the UK has been jailed for more than 19 years as part of a National Crime Agency investigation under Operation Venetic.
Using encrypted communications platform EncroChat, Michael Derrane, 50, orchestrated, supplied and transferred firearms and multiple kilos of class A and B drugs wholesale, selling them on to criminals for a profit.
Evidence from encrypted messages showed Derrane, from Morpeth, was well known to serious organised crime groups in Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, the Midlands, and London and would travel up to 700 miles to exchange illicit goods.
In one series of messages he discussed the sale of 30 kilos of heroin split between locations in London, Leicester and Oxford.
Today (1 March) at Leeds Crown Court, he was sentenced to 19 years and two months imprisonment after he had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer prohibited weapons (firearms) and conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs namely Heroin, Cocaine and Cannabis.
The NCA launched its investigation in 2020 as part of Operation Venetic – the UK law enforcement response to the takedown of encrypted global communications service EncroChat.
On 22 April 2020, Derrane was arrested in his van in the Tingley area of Leeds by NCA armed officers on suspicion of firearms and drugs offences. During a search of the van officers recovered a firearm that had been converted to fire fully automatic, as well as ammunition, class B drugs and £6000 cash.
On 2 July 2020, Alsi Vata, 26, who had conspired with Derrane to buy this firearm and other firearms was detained by NCA officers in the presence of the former Home Secretary as he left an apartment in Soho.
Messages analysed in April 2020 as part of Operation Venetic provided evidence of their plans. Using the handle ‘Budplug’, Vata sent a message to Derrane in April 2020 requesting firearms.
Derrane, who used the handle ‘Big Corey’, responded, saying:
“They in Spain until we start sending again I can’t get em you got enough kill someone only need one in right place.”
Pictured: Michael Derrane (left) and Alsi Vata (right)
In another message, Derrane references a dispute he has over drugs and money with another man, saying:
“‘That’s all they have to wait and I just need 2 bullets in a gun.”
Vata, from London, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer prohibited weapons (firearms), possession of a prohibited weapon (firearm) and conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs namely Cocaine and Cannabis.
He was sentenced to 14 years and three months alongside Derrane today.
Adrian Barnard, the NCA SIO, said: “Today’s sentencing is testament to the hard work of law enforcement in relentlessly pursuing those who deal in lethal firearms.
“Messages clearly showed that Derrane was a dangerous person, whose access to weaponry gave him status among organised crime groups on a national scale.
“The levels of violence and exploitation that are linked to illegal drugs and firearms in the UK is undeniable and, not only are we going after the criminal kingpins, we’re disrupting those middle-tier criminals before they can make their way up the chain and cause even greater harm.”
Hilary Ryan, Specialist Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was a complex and challenging case but, thanks to the work of the investigators and our prosecutors, the conviction and sentencing of Derrane and Vata takes two dangerous criminals off the streets.
“Their dealings in wholesale quantities of drugs and in firearms were motivated by financial gain. They had no regard for the harm caused by drug addiction or for the fear, injury and loss of life resulting from the trade in illegal firearms.”
01 March 2023