He was ‘like a ghost’… then he went to a Man City game

A major drugs kingpin – described by police as ‘a highly sophisticated and professional international trafficker’ – was finally arrested as he prepared to watch Manchester City play Liverpool at Anfield.

Robert Bennett, 50, was described by the National Crime Agency as ‘ghost-like’. They said he left ‘little trace’ and ‘managed to stay off the radar for a long time’. But justice has now caught up with him and he’s behind bars serving a 19-year prison sentence.

NCA officers swooped to arrest him on October 3, 2021, as he walked into Anfield to watch Liverpool play Manchester City in the Premier League.

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The agency said Bennett, from Wigan, was involved in the smuggling, or discussions around possible smuggling, of more than a ton of cocaine into Liverpool. Known by the handle ‘Dior Six’ on the encrypted communications platform EncroChat, he worked with offenders based abroad and in the UK to traffick cocaine, the NCA said.

A spokesman said: “He used corrupt insiders at the Port of Liverpool to break out drugs from shipping containers and used foreign contacts to help him orchestrate the smuggling of drugs by road from Europe. In April 2020, Bennett and another EncroChat user successfully brought 97kg of cocaine into the UK, driven from the Netherlands.

“His Encrochat messages suggested he had successfully smuggled 150kg of cocaine into Liverpool’s docks from Guayaquil in Ecuador and was discussing another possible 500kg attempt with the South Americans.

Peter McQuade
(Image: NCA)

“Evidence showed he was also involved in other discussions to smuggle through the docks: 200kg of cocaine from Colombia; between 200kg and 300kg at a cost of 7,500 Euros per kg from Costa Rica; and 300kg of cocaine from Brazil, to be smuggled in four 75kg bags.”

Bennett, of Smithy Glen Drive in Orrell, Wigan, but originally from Huyton, Liverpool, was investigated as part of Operation Venetic – the NCA-led, UK response to the takedown of EncroChat in 2020.

The once top-secret messaging system used by criminals operated on customised Android mobile phones. Accessed by a secure password, a user on the platform was given a unique ‘handle’, typically made up of a noun and an adjective.

But in what was described as a ‘game-changer’ and ‘monumental’ by police chiefs in the UK, the National Crime Agency working with crime-fighting colleagues across Europe announced in July 2020 that the EncroChat system’s encryption code had been cracked. Law enforcement agencies could finally see what those they were hunting were saying and planning – and arrests followed.

Bennett admitted two counts of conspiring to smuggle cocaine from the Netherlands and South America, and was jailed at Liverpool Crown Court today, Wednesday, for 19 years and six months.

Andy Black, NCA senior manager, said: “Bennett was a highly sophisticated and professional international trafficker. He had global contacts and had clearly managed to stay off the radar for a long time.

“He left little trace and was ghost like. He was extremely cautious and had very few official records which are a normal part of life. His tradecraft and awareness of law enforcement tactics were also highly developed.

Jailed: Kevin Murphy
(Image: NCA)

“Coupled with some superb, tenacious detective work by the team, the Operation Venetic data enabled us to pinpoint what Bennett was doing and bring him to justice. The NCA will continue working with international and domestic partners to fight the Class A drugs threat.”

Last week, Kevin Murphy, the nephew of Bennett’s partner, was jailed for eight years. Murphy, 42, of Elwick Drive, Croxteth, Liverpool, worked as an inside man at the Port of Liverpool alongside Peter McQuade, 39, said the NCA. Murphy admitted facilitating Bennett and McQuade in conspiring to smuggle cocaine from South America.

Former soldier McQuade, of Downside Close, Bootle, Liverpool, used the handle ‘Ninjabasil’ on EncroChat. Bennett saved McQuade in his EncroChat phone as ‘Pullout’, which refers to his role retrieving drugs from shipping containers.

The NCA spokesperson said: “Both Murphy and McQuade were crucial to the drugs conspiracies. They provided Bennett with advice about dockside processes and security. And McQuade advised Bennett about the best containers to use to protect the drugs from being intercepted by port authorities, telling him to avoid fridges and food boxes.

“To minimise any evidence against them, Bennett only ever contacted McQuade on EncroChat. Whenever McQuade did not answer, Bennett phoned Murphy and used him as a middle man to relay and check information with McQuade.”

McQuade admitted conspiring to smuggle cocaine from South America and possessing criminal property. He was found with a Tag watch and around £6,500 in cash when he was arrested. He was jailed for 16 years and 10 months.

A Peel Ports spokesperson said: “Peel Ports Group and the Port of Liverpool Police are pleased to have assisted the National Crime Agency with their investigation. The successful convictions are down to a great deal of effort and collaborative work across both teams and underlines just how seriously we take any matter of criminality.”

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