Big cheese no more: UK drug dealer caught out by cheese pic

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Two images released Thursday May 27, 2021, by Merseyside Police showing a photo of Carl Stewart, left, and the photo he posted of himself holding a block of cheese that was used by police to identify Stewart who has been jailed Friday May 23, 2021, for 13 years and six months on various drugs charges. Carl Stewart, 39, posted online a photo of himself holding a block of mature blue cheese and police in Europe cracked the encrypted network as part of Operation Venetic, and officers were able to analyse his fingerprints from the photo to identify him. (Carl Stewart/Merseyside Police via AP)

LONDON – A drug dealer in the English city of Liverpool thought he was the big cheese — until police got all the evidence they needed to arrest him from a picture he shared of himself holding a small block of creamy Stilton.

Carl Stewart, 39, was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison at Liverpool Crown Court last week after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, MDMA and ketamine and transferring criminal property.

Were it not for a photo he shared of himself holding the cheese block from the reputable British retailer, Marks & Spencer, he could still very well be supplying large amounts of drugs.

Stewart was arrested after he posted the photo on the encrypted messaging service EncroChat, via his handle “Toffeeforce.” Unbeknownst to him, the service had been cracked by police in Europe. From that, his palm and fingerprints were analyzed and police had their man.

Merseyside Police Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson said Stewart had been “caught out by his love of Stilton cheese.”

Stewart isn't alone in having his criminal activities brought to a premature end by his activities on EncroChat. Merseyside Police say around 60,000 users have now been identified worldwide, with about 10,000 of them in the U.K. alone. All are said to be involved in coordinating and planning the supply and distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activity

Merseyside Police has arrested more than 60 people as part of Operation Venetic, and three more criminals were sentenced to long-term prison terms on Wednesday. Three more are due for sentencing Thursday.

Shaun Harrison, 33, was one of those, sentenced to 10 years eight months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. Harrison was caught out after he revealed personal details of himself on EncroChat, on which he went by the handle "Scantbee and Sandferret."

“Merseyside Police, along with law enforcement agencies across the world, will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of those people who think they are above the law, and we will continue to target anyone involved in serious organized crime to keep this positive momentum going," Wilkinson said.