Dad sold lorry to people smugglers who killed 39 people in Essex

A gang member who hid his drugs trade behind a lifestyle of lavish food and cars sold a lorry to a people smuggler who ended up killing 39 people inside a container in Essex. Thomas Maher was happy to spend tens of thousands of pounds on cars, luxurious holidays to Mexico and a second home in Spain. He loved fast food and fast cars, ordering up to five meals a day to his door in Warrington, Cheshire.

:The latest breaking crime news from across Essex Despite this, he was no ordinary dad. In fact, he was a facilitator for an Irish based organised crime gang who specialised in moving drugs across the continent.

But Maher’s world became compromised after he sold a truck to Irish crook Ronan Hughes, who used it to smuggle a trailer of Vietnamese migrants into the UK. By the time the truck arrived at the port in Purfleet, Essex on October 23, 2019, the 39 migrants had been asphyxiated and all of them perished inside the container. The incident was one of the biggest homicide cases Essex Police has ever faced, and eventually saw all of the smugglers convicted and put behind bars, with a TV documentary on the case also airing this year.

Although the National Crime Agency (NCA) could not link Maher directly to the terrible crime, he was now on their radar.

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Signing up to the newsletter is simple. All you have to do is to click here and type in your email address. It’s one of the many ways that you can read the news that matters to you from EssexLive. However it was Maher’s use of the secretive EncroChat phone network that led to his downfall.

When a French led operation managed to access the servers that hosted the network, everything changed. The NCA would soon be able to read Maher’s messages revealing his role as a key facilitator for a dangerous transnational crime group. Maher, who used the Encro handle Satirical, also discussed “pineapples” which the NCA believed was a reference to hand-grenades.

The Warrington dad was not charged with any firearms offences. However some of the messages revealed that Maher was using his influence in the underworld to organise a revenge attack on Ronan Hughes.

Maher suspected that Hughes might offer up information about him, and he wanted the crook punished for “dragging me into this mess.” When the NCA realised there was a credible plot to harm Hughes they intervened to protect him.

Maher was then arrested at his home address in Woolston on suspicion of drug offences. Earlier this year the NCA released some of the messages Maher sent to his criminal associates on the EncroChat network. Just like Curtis Warren in the 1990s, Maher used a lexicon of slang terms when discussing drugs and serious crime.

Cocaine was referred to as ‘tops’ and ‘posh’, while ‘bobs’ was used for heroin. Ecstasy and cannabis were referred to as ‘polly’ and ‘jackets.’ Holland was referred to as the ‘Flat’ , Spain was the ‘Sun’ and the Republic of Ireland was ‘Home.’

HGV lorries used to move drugs around Europe were ‘taxis’, hiding places on lorries on HGVs were ‘slots’ and cash was ‘paperwork.’ Firearms and drugs were sometimes referred to as ‘bits.’

Dad sold lorry to people smugglers who killed 39 people in Essex

Further messages revealed that Maher was playing a central role in the movement of drugs around the world, such as exporting Colombian cocaine to Africa. Maher also expressed an awareness of rival crime factions in Scandinavia. Satirical: “They say massive money over there m8 also m8 they say Sweden is a good place for work money is ment to be big bit a lot of Albanian c**** have it wrapped up there . . and why not do Africa to BG and BG to the flat m8 .”

The messages also revealed how , like any businessman, Maher was working hard to cope with the extra pressures from Covid and lockdown restrictions. The Warrington man was proud of his 20 year experience in the drug trade and wanted others to know that he “knew the ways.” After Maher was sentenced in December last year senior officers at the NCA spoke about the role he played as a “logistics man” who helped “notorious” crime groups.

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Dad sold lorry to people smugglers who killed 39 people in Essex

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Maher, originally from County Offaly in Leinster, was then charged with conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to the messages he sent about Hughes. He pleaded not guilty to the charge and Liverpool Crown court ruled for the charge to lay on file. Maher admitted two offences of conspiring with others unknown to import Class A drugs into Ireland between March 28 and April 6 2020.

He also admitted two charges of conspiring with others unknown to transfer criminal property in Ireland between April 3 and May 11.

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