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Leader of criminal gang jailed for 33 years for large-scale drug and gun running

|News, International and organised crime

A man at the head of a Birmingham-based crime group involved in supplying class A drugs and sourcing firearms has today been jailed for 33 years.

Danyal Aziz, 29, from Stechford and two other gang members were convicted at Birmingham Crown Court in June 2023.

Aziz was jailed for conspiring to supply class A drugs, possession of firearms and money laundering related offences; Michael Earp, 32, from Shard End was jailed for 26 years for drugs and firearms offences; and Nicole Rhone, 29, from Bordesley Green was sentenced to five years for possession of a firearm.

The gang used a rented flat in Sapphire Heights, Hockley, as their base where large amounts of cash and drugs paraphernalia were found. Earp and an associate were captured on CCTV in the Sapphire Height’s carpark exchanging handguns that they hoped to sell. 

Aziz and his associates were arrested by the National Crime Agency in 2020.  A Skorpion submachine gun loaded with live rounds of ammunition was found in an orange plastic carrier bag under Nicole Rhone’s bed at her home in Bordesley Green, where she was storing it for Aziz and, her cousin, Earp. Additional ammunition was found in her child’s bedroom. CCTV from April 2020 showed Aziz and Earp retrieving and later returning an orange package from Rhone’s address.

Messaging between the two men suggested that the orange package contained the gun, with Aziz telling Earp ‘Go grab the skorps load it up … with the fresh sweets’ (the sweets referring to ammunition). 

Two of the defendants were using EncroChat encrypted mobile phones, to conduct their illicit enterprise of buying and selling class A drugs (heroin and cocaine). EncroChat messaging also confirmed that they acquired firearms to protect themselves from rival organised criminal gangs.

EncroChat users could set 'burn-times' for the messages they sent and received. In other words, messages would automatically delete after a set period. There was also a 'panic wipe' password by which a user could delete everything on their device. This could be triggered remotely, and these phones cannot be bought via high street stories and normal websites.
The investigation into these defendants relied significantly on EncroChat communications. This enabled the National Crime Agency to read some of the messages that had been sent or received by Aziz and Earp and an associate. Thereafter, the National Crime Agency commenced an investigation, leading to the arrest of Aziz and associates.

Kelly Matthews, Unit Head for Serious Economic Organised Crime and International Directorate, said: “Today’s sentencing marks the end of a case which has seen the head of an organised crime group jailed for 33 years.

“In the mistaken belief that they were protected by using encrypted messaging, the gang organised for large amounts of class A drugs to flood our streets.

“They also had access to a lethal submachine gun which had it been used, could have had potentially terrible consequences for innocent members of the public.

“The length of today’s sentence reflects the severity of these crimes, and the potential damage that drugs and weapons can do in our communities.

“This case is an excellent example of the CPS working jointly with the NCA to bring a group of dangerous criminals to justice.”

NCA Branch Commander Mick Pope said: “These people made up a dangerous organised crime group, who were heavily involved in the importation and sale of class A drugs in Birmingham and around the UK.

“Aziz was a major player, orchestrating the movement of more than 40 kilos of heroin and 52 kilos of cocaine in just three months. These drugs are a corrosive threat, bringing in a huge amount of revenue for criminals who do not care about the devastation they cause.

“Our investigation has also taken a deadly, working sub-machine gun out of the hands of this group, who were actively working to acquire more weapons to scare and intimidate their customers and competition.

“The NCA is committed to protecting the public and will continue to pursue violent organised criminals who trade in illegal drugs and firearms.”

Notes to editors

  • Kelly Matthews is a Unit Head for the CPS Serious Economic Organised and International Directorate (SEOCID) 
  • Danyal Aziz (6 June 1994) of Pelham Road, Stechford jailed for 33 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, two counts of possession of a prohibited firearm, two counts of possession of prohibited ammunition and money laundering
  • Michael Earp (6 December 1990) of Pear Tree Road, Shard End jailed for 26 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, two counts of possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, two counts of possession of prohibited ammunition
  • Nicole Rhone (8 December 1993) of Yardley Green Road, Bordesley jailed for five years for possession of a prohibited firearm and possession of prohibited ammunition.

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