Haulage firm boss jailed over European drugs network

Thomas Maher was caught after police cracked encrypted messaging service

Police outside the house of Joanna and Thomas Maher in Warrington, who have said they had sold the Scania lorry cab, which is registered in Bulgaria, to a company in Ireland, after 39 migrants were found dead in a refrigerated trailer in Grays in the early hours of Wednesday.

A haulage firm operator arrested over the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants has been jailed for more than 14 years over his role in moving drugs and money across Europe.

Thomas Maher, 40, once owned the lorry later used in an operation to smuggle migrants to the UK but was never charged in connection with the deaths of the Vietnamese migrants after they suffocated in the back of a trailer in Essex, eastern England in October 2019.

Maher was arrested soon afterwards after French and Dutch police cracked an encrypted messaging service known as EncroChat that was used by high-level criminals to organise smuggling operations and gangland hits.

In one message to an associate, Maher, of Warrington, north-west England, boasted of his involvement in organised crime for more than 20 years.

He was sentenced to 14 years and eight months in prison in Liverpool on Tuesday after admitting two charges related to importing drugs into the UK and money laundering.

The transport company boss ran a network across Europe, moving drugs into the UK and Ireland while sending the profits in the other direction.

In one exchange of messages, he joked with an associate that he was in a great position to take advantage once coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased. “Once we get this travel ban lifted… we'll be laughing mate I’m telling u that’s why I’m not stressing yet,” he said.

National Crime Agency branch commander Martin Clarke said: “Maher moved in the highest criminal circles, acting as a logistics man for some of the UK, Ireland and Europe’s most notorious organised crime groups who trusted him with their drugs and money.

“We believe the offences he has been convicted of represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his overall criminality.

“He bragged in EncroChat messages about being involved in organised crime for over 20 years, during which time it’s highly likely he shipped tonnes of drugs and tens of millions of pounds around Europe.”

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