Smiling, having a few beers in the garden during the first confinement. The man in the Armani red shirt is Leon Atkinson, a GMP targeted criminal and close friend of cop killer Dale Cregan.
Police believe Atkinson has been the boss of a Tameside organized crime group for a decade. In 2013, on trial alongside Cregan, he was acquitted of murdering Mark Short and attempting to murder three others at the Cotton Tree pub in Droylsden. Cregan would later admit to killing Mark Short, 23, his father, David, 46, and police officers Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23, whom he lured to a house in Hattersley. .
The Crown had alleged that Atkinson had recruited Cregan to commit Mark Short’s murder after a member of the Short family slapped his mother 12 days earlier. But a jury acquitted him of all charges.
But the image of him relaxing in the sun was key evidence of his downfall as a major drug dealer. The photo was taken on April 8, 2020 and sent to Jason Cox. It was discovered after law enforcement cracked the “secret” Encrochat network used by criminals to send messages to each other.
Police found it on Jason Cox’s phone while investigating the Salford-based Cox family’s drug dealing activities. Using the handles ‘Carrothorn’ and ‘Maidenbear’, Atkinson sent a message to the Cox clan to negotiate the purchase of half of £1 million worth of cocaine they had stolen from a notorious Liverpool criminal gang.
Police believe Atkinson knew the cocaine had been taxed by other criminals, but was unaware that it had been stolen from such a powerful Merseyside company. Jason and Craig Cox, Liverpool gangster Richard Caswell and day laborer Ben Monks-Gorton carried out a brutal robbery at the gang’s Liverpool drug stash in order to obtain the 30kg of cocaine that was of wholesale value. of £1.2 million, and was hidden in a storm drain. A father and son were seriously injured when they were attacked with a machete and an ax during the robbery.
The deal with Atkinson was made near Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. Manchester Crown Court told Michael Nevin that a courier working for the Cox family arranged to sell the drugs to Atkinson, who sent a “partner” to meet him near Manchester City’s training ground in east London. Manchester.
At the time of delivery, Nevin sold six kilograms of cocaine to Nathan Powell, who used the Encro handle ‘Festivetape’. After the delivery, a customer got back in touch and said that he wanted to buy another seven kilograms of drugs.
A second meeting was also held near Manchester City’s training ground. The court heard that the criminals involved in the delivery used the password ‘Man City’ for the meeting.
The court also heard that one of Nevin’s clients was upset by the use of the ‘Man City’ password because he was a Manchester United fan. Nevin joked that the customer was ‘furious’.
Police learned of the gatherings near Manchester City’s ground after reading messages sent on the EncroChat network. Greater Manchester Police and the North West Regional Crime Unit later arrested the main participants in the conspiracy.
Detective Chief Inspector Roger Smethurst of GMP, commenting on the image Atkinson sent to Jason Cox, said: “He became so confident in the safety of these devices that they became very nonchalant about using them. They thought they were undetectable. by the police. He is not the only one who has made mistakes around the use of them.
“We estimate that Atkinson has been the boss of an organized crime group for the last ten years. He inadvertently bought 15kg of cocaine (from the Cox brothers) and then finds himself caught in the middle of a major feud between Cox and the gang. of Liverpool. He knows that it is taxed but not to whom it has been taxed”.
Atkinson, 43, had moved from the Tameside area to Atherton but his criminal career was cut short in July 2020 when he was in a first wave of 34 people charged locally after police infiltrated the encrypted telephone network.
Nearly 800 people were arrested across the UK after French officials hacked into the Encrochat platform, which allowed police to read text messages.
Detective Chief Inspector Smethurst said: “We started looking at the messages that Atkinson had sent and we saw that he was involved in supplying Class A drugs and that he was monitoring people around him in the Openshaw and Tameside area, working in his name, mainly in cocaine.
“He was eventually charged with a conspiracy involving 28kg of cocaine of which he inadvertently takes possession of the Coxes’ 15kg.”
At Manchester Crown Court, Atkinson of Brindley Close, Atherton, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and conspiracy to transfer criminal property. He was described in court as a “regional” cocaine supplier who sold drugs imported into the UK through a contact.