Bitcoin county lines drug ring smashed: Cocaine dealers are suspected of using web currency to prey on Middle England

  • Around 220 officers swooped on 19 alleged gang members in Essex and Suffolk
  • It included 4am operation at £635,000 home of alleged kingpin Chris Golding
  • Network used Bitcoin after running out of places to hide profits of £90,000 a day

Police have smashed Britain’s first Bitcoin county lines gang. The group is suspected of hiding millions in the crypto-currency after enabling middle-class drug users to transfer funds online. 

In a highly sophisticated operation, the massive gang allegedly set up numerous Bitcoin accounts to buy and sell class A drugs across four counties in near-untraceable payments. 

They were rumbled when police received a tip-off about suspicious drug activity in a pub run by the alleged ringleader. 

It led to a six-month investigation and yesterday 220 officers swooped on 19 alleged gang members in dawn raids in Essex and Suffolk – including a 4am operation at the £635,000 home of alleged kingpin Chris Golding in Harlow. 

Around 220 officers swooped on 19 alleged gang members in dawn raids in Essex and Suffolk ¿ including a 4am operation at the £635,000 home of alleged kingpin Chris Golding (pictured) in Harlow

Around 220 officers swooped on 19 alleged gang members in dawn raids in Essex and Suffolk – including a 4am operation at the £635,000 home of alleged kingpin Chris Golding (pictured) in Harlow

Members of the network are said to have started using Bitcoin after running out of places to hide profits of up to £90,000 a day. 

Detectives believe the gang were ploughing at least £120,000 a week into the crypto-currency from the sale of cocaine and crack cocaine across Essex, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and London. 

During the probe, codenamed Operation Shark, officers saw dealers deposit money into high street Bitcoin cashpoints, which instantly convert cash into online currency. 

Golding is also suspected of advertising the gang’s Bitcoin accounts so wealthy drug users like City bankers could pay direct for large deliveries. 

The gang was rumbled when police (pictured at the dawn raids) received a tip-off about suspicious drug activity in a pub run by the alleged ringleader

The gang was rumbled when police (pictured at the dawn raids) received a tip-off about suspicious drug activity in a pub run by the alleged ringleader

Detective Chief Inspector Lewis Basford, who leads Essex Police on county lines, estimates that for nearly two years the group sold three kilos of cocaine a week to around ten county lines gangs in the South East. 

They are also thought to have run their own Harlow-based county line – the gangs which are named after the mobile phones used to peddle the drugs, often using vulnerable teenagers as dealers. 

They are accused of commanding a vast drugs distribution network using the encrypted criminal communications service EncroChat, which was hacked by the police earlier this year. 

Using specialist investigators, police hope to seize around £2million in proceeds after recovering a number of account codes. 

Members of the network are said to have started using Bitcoin after running out of places to hide profits of up to £90,000 a day (money found during the raid pictured)

Members of the network are said to have started using Bitcoin after running out of places to hide profits of up to £90,000 a day (money found during the raid pictured)

Police have smashed Britain's first Bitcoin county lines gang suspected of hiding millions in the crypto-currency after enabling middle-class drug users to transfer funds online

Police have smashed Britain’s first Bitcoin county lines gang suspected of hiding millions in the crypto-currency after enabling middle-class drug users to transfer funds online

Mr Basford said: ‘This is the UK’s first county line gang using Bitcoin. They started using it as they were making so much money they didn’t know what to do with it. 

‘Bitcoin is an excellent way to launder money… it’s very hard to unpick it.’ 

Golding, 38, was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply class A drugs. 

His wife Natalie, 37, was also arrested in front of her three children on suspicion of being concerned in supplying a controlled drug. 

During subsequent searches of a pub where Mr Golding is listed as a landlord, tens of thousands of pounds were found in a safe. 

At least £100,000 in cash was recovered in the raids, along with drugs and a number of weapons.

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