West Malling drug dealer sentenced after secret phone messages decrypted

A drug dealer from West Malling has been jailed for more than 10 years after police cracked a secret messaging system used to supply vast amounts of cocaine.   

Stephen Palmer was convicted following an investigation into the wholesale supply of drugs facilitated by the encrypted phone network EncroChat.

Palmer, of Oslin Walk, Kings Hill used EncroChat to communicate with other criminals, but in 2020 the service was decoded by international law enforcement agencies and some of the messages were passed to police forces in the UK.

An investigation by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate followed, which revealed a user handle ‘Palmbeach’ was instrumental in arranging cocaine deals at almost £40,000 a kilogram.

Identified by fish image 

Detectives attributed hundreds of messages to Palmbeach, some of which also demonstrated an involvement in the supply of ketamine.

Palmer was identified by images sent from Palmbeach of him holding a fish, and selling a vehicle.

He was arrested on 31 March 2023 and searches at an address linked to him near Ashford led to the seizure of a phone, £6,000 in cash, two designer watches and a quantity of a cutting agent.

Further evidence linking Palmer to his distinctive EncroChat handle was discovered from paperwork relating to a property in France. This included a UK correspondence address in Palm Beach Avenue, Hythe. 

Guilty pleas

At Maidstone Crown Court, Palmer pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of cocaine and being concerned in the supply of ketamine.

The investigation had also explored further EncroChat conversations which appeared to show possible preparations for the murder of an unknown person, as well as chats connected to the purchase and sale of handguns and machine guns.

However, charges relating to the sale of firearms and of soliciting to commit murder, were ordered by the court to lie on file.

On Friday 31 May 2024, Palmer, 41, was sentenced to 10 years and six months’ imprisonment.

Detective Constable Steven Brown said: ‘Dismantling EncroChat was a huge breakthrough in tackling organised crime and it has now led to the arrests of thousands of criminals, worldwide. ‘We don’t know for sure just how many kilograms of drugs Palmer was involved in supplying, but we can be certain that he occupied a significant role, moving cocaine in vast quantities. ‘The evidence obtained from phone messages can sometimes have limitations and we accept it has not been possible to conclusively link Palmer to any further offences, and this includes establishing whether any threats perceived from the messages were ever carried out. ‘We will now be using the Proceeds of Crime Act to seek to recover cash and any other assets acquired, as a result of this criminal activity.’

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Written by John Smith

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