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Guilty plea Irishman Thomas Maher first to be sentenced as part of EncroChat probe

There will be more criminals linked to Maher who are very likely to face serious jail time in the New Year"

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Thomas Maher

Thomas Maher

Thomas Maher

More Irish criminals will face arrest and charges in the coming months, senior sources revealed today after an Irish criminal who was busted by police agencies compromising the EncroChat service earlier this year became the first Irish national to be sentenced in the secretive probe.

Thomas Maher (40) who is originally from Clara, Co Offaly was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad at an earlier hearing.

He was jailed for 14 years.

“There will be more criminals linked to Maher who are very likely to face serious jail time in the New Year,” a senior source told Independent.ie last night.

A count of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad – that of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm to Ronan Hughes in Ireland between April 21 and 29 this year – was ordered to lie on the file after Maher pleaded not guilty.

Haulier Hughes, 40, from Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in August to 39 counts of manslaughter following the deaths of the Vietnamese migrants and faces a potential life sentence next year.

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Irish haulier Ronan Hughes admitted his involvement (Essex Police/PA)

Irish haulier Ronan Hughes admitted his involvement (Essex Police/PA)

Irish haulier Ronan Hughes admitted his involvement (Essex Police/PA)

On Monday, Eamon Harrison (24) was convicted of manslaughter for his part in the plot while Armagh man Christopher Kennedy (24) was convicted of conspiracy.

It is understood that charge relates to Maher being investigated for attempting to organise for Hughes to be attacked in Cloverhill Prison while awaiting his extradition to the UK between April 21 and April 29 this year.

Maher was previously arrested but released without charge in October, 2019, for after being questioned about manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in connection with the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants in a truck container in Essex.

The Offaly man, who English police said been living “the highlife” in the UK for over 20 years, was previously arrested for possession of €250,000 worth of drugs in Newbridge, Co Kildare, ten years ago with another man by gardai but both were released without charge.

“The tractor unit involved had at one point be owned by Maher, and was still registered in his wife’s name even after it was sold, the UK’s National Crime Agency said yesterday.

“Maher was released with no further action taken by Essex Police, but the NCA investigation revealed that despite him and wife being on less than minimum wage for tax purposes, they lived a luxurious lifestyle,” a spokesperson added.

However, his luck finally ran out when specialist English police and gardai refocused their investigations on Maher after the Essex tragedy.

“This individual has connections to all the major drugs gangs here, he basically worked for them by using his haulage expertise to get drug shipments into the country and cash to the pay for them out of Ireland,” a senior source told Independent.ie.

“From very humble beginnings in his hometown of Clara where he comes from a decent family, he was living with all the trappings of his ill-gotten wealth in the UK which involved owning top-of-the range sports cars, expensive foreign holidays and an upmarket home but it is all over for him now,” the source added.

Yesterday the British National Crime Agency (NCA) said evidence showed that he operated a transportation network spanning Europe, moving drugs into the UK and Ireland and the profits in the other direction.

Encrochat messages revealed in April 2020 he orchestrated the collection and delivery of at least 21 kilos of cocaine from locations in the Netherlands.

Associates reported back to Maher when the drugs were picked up, transported and arrived at their final destination in Ireland, the Agency said in a statement.

In one exchange of messages, Maher discussed the best ports to use with a co-conspirator. He told him: “I'm at this game the last 20 odd years pal, I'm not an overnighter so I know the way of plays.”

In another exchange he joked how he was in a great position to take advantage once coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased, saying: “Once we get this travel ban lifted…we be laughing mate I’m telling u that’s why I’m not stressing yet.”

The father-of-three who had been living in Warrington, Cheshire, used encrypted phone network Encrochat – which was accessed by law enforcement agencies across Europe earlier this year – to plan the transportation, the court heard.

Sentencing him, Judge David Aubrey QC said: “You were an extremely important cog in the wheel of a sophisticated network of distribution of class A controlled drugs which had an international element.

“You were a trusted organiser, playing a part in where goods were to be exchanged, how parties would be able to identify each other when drugs were to be conveyed and how.

“Drugs cause desperation and misery, they are a cancer in our midst, but for those like you it matters not as long as financial profit is being achieved.”

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