Huyton Firm arrested
The takedown of the Huyton Firm highlights the ongoing debate about encryption technology. Pexels

In a story that can rival the most gripping criminal film, police cracked a criminal organisation's encrypted messaging app, leading to the arrest of over 30 high profile criminals and the uncovering of a vicious plan sparked by a stolen drug shipment.

Huyton Firm kingpins plotted the murders of rivals suspected of stealing over £1 million of cocaine, as revealed by 10,000 decrypted messages obtained by BBC Panorama following a successful legal challenge. The messages revealed plans for horrific violence, including a hand grenade attack.

The Huyton Firm, a Merseyside crime gang named after its base, has been controlled for three decades by the sinister Coggins brothers, Vincent and Francis. Their identities were finally revealed following a series of trials at Manchester Crown Court.

Coggins brothers
Left to Right - Paul Woodford senior Hitman, Vincent Dickie Coggins joint Godfather with brother Francis Coggins, Baldy Edward Jarvis Underboss, Michael Earle Capo Twitter / Art Hostage @ArtHostage

Unaware that their encrypted conversations on EncroChat were compromised, the Huyton Firm's leadership, including the Coggins brothers, spoke freely on the messaging system. This unprecedented access to their communications provides a chilling glimpse into the inner workings of a long-standing criminal organisation.

A Ruthless Leader and a Lucrative Trade

Vincent Coggins, the group's leader, emerged from the messages as a ruthless figure, ordering brutal attacks and even boasting of a violent assault.

The messages also documented a lucrative drug trade. Francis Coggins sent photos of large quantities of cocaine, and the brothers discussed a massive deal for half a ton of the drug, valued at a staggering £16 million.

Shockingly, the messages hinted at a corrupt police insider called "Piggy," highlighting potential breaches within law enforcement. These revelations weren't the only downfall of the gang. Key members' careless sharing of personal photos proved their undoing, as police could link them to their online usernames.

Matt Horne, a former high-ranking National Crime Agency (NCA) investigator, described the Huyton Firm's operation to Panorama. He characterised their "industrial-scale drug trafficking" and propensity for extreme violence as hallmarks of "one of the UK's most dangerous criminal organisations."

In an alarming message, Vincent Coggins detailed his plan to torture a local businessman, writing: "Then we decide whether we slash him, chop his fingers off or whatever." (Note: All messages from the crime group are reproduced here with their original spelling and punctuation).

The decrypted messages also contained allegations of a corrupt police insider, who allegedly provided the Huyton Firm with information from the Police National Computer ( PNC ). Merseyside Police, however, maintains that a comprehensive investigation by their anti-corruption unit found no evidence of officers or staff misusing police systems.

How Encrypted Messages Brought Down a Notorious Drug Gang

The Huyton Firm operated in the shadows for a long time, believing their encrypted communications were untouchable. Like several criminals worldwide, they relied on EncroChat software to hide their plans and identities.

However, in a breakthrough, French police successfully decrypted the app, exposing a treasure trove of criminal activity. In 2020, the NCA received access to messages from over 7,000 UK criminals, including the Huyton Firm.

The intel proved invaluable, particularly regarding a brutal feud sparked by a stolen drug shipment from one of the gang's Liverpool stashes. Due to the decrypted messages, 32 key figures involved in the raid have been convicted.

The final member of a ruthless drug gang has been convicted, according to a report by BBC. Their plot, chillingly exposed by decrypted messages, involved unleashing a wave of gun and grenade attacks in retaliation for stolen narcotics.

Anfield resident Edward Jarvis faces a lengthy sentence after being convicted of cocaine and heroin trafficking, as well as conspiracy to blackmail, at Manchester Crown Court.

Edward Jarvis
Alongwith gang leader Vincent Coggins, Edward Jarvis plotted to kill those they thought had stolen from them. Twitter / JonAustinReporter @JonAustinjourn1

The takedown of the Huyton Firm highlights the ongoing debate about encryption technology. While it offers individuals a valuable layer of privacy, law enforcement agencies argue it can interfere with investigations and create safe refuges for criminals.

This tension recently came to light when Jeff Bezos was grilled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over using Signal, an encrypted messaging app with a disappearing message feature.

Moreover, the FBI's success in a massive global sting operation in 2021, where they covertly distributed their encrypted phones used by over 800 arrested criminals, underscores the evolving strategies of law enforcement to counter encrypted communication.