A corrupt police worker who illegally accessed sensitive information to tip off a criminal friend about a secret, international investigation into serious crime has been jailed.
Natalie Mottram, 25, from Warrington, betrayed her police bosses but was caught in an undercover sting operation set up to trap whoever was leaking secrets to criminals.
Mottram, who started work at Cheshire Police in 2017 as an apprentice before being seconded to the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU), was jailed for three years and nine months at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday.
She had been working as an intelligence analyst at the ROCU when she was arrested by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers on June 12 2020.
Mottram was held as part of Operation Venetic – the NCA-led UK response to the takedown of the encrypted communications platform EncroChat, used by gangsters and serious criminals across Europe to avoid detection.
But soon after Operation Venetic began, it became clear to investigators that there had been a leak, the NCA said.
Mottram, whose job involved making threat assessments of organised crime gangs, told Jonathan Kay, 39, about the covert EncroChat operation, and that officers had intelligence on him.
On April 24 2020, a friend of Kay, who cannot be named for legal reasons, messaged another EncroChat user to say he had learned that day about law enforcement infiltrating the platform.
And he messaged a second contact: “I no (sic) a lady who works for the police. This is not hearsay. Direct to me. They can access Encro software. And are using to intercept forearms (sic) only at the moment. There (sic) software runs 48 hours behind real time. So have ur burns one day max. And try to avoid giving postcodes over it.”
‘Burns’ refers to the delete time on messages.
He added: “Her words was are you on Encro, I said no why, I only sell a bit of bud. She said cool just giving you heads up. Because NCA now have access.”
By June 12 2020, NCA investigators suspected Mottram was responsible for the leak, placing her under surveillance.
The same day, her bosses asked her to analyse an intelligence log referring to Kay, who was the partner of Mottram’s close friend Leah Bennett, 38.
But the log was bogus.
Mottram left work that afternoon and drove to Kay and Bennett’s house in Newark Drive, Great Sankey, Warrington.
The three had grown close a few years before over a shared love of exercise.
After meeting Kay and Bennett at their house the prosecution said this is when Mottram corruptly informed them about the intelligence log concerning Kay.
Telecomms data also shows the same evening Bennett’s phone contacted a phone belonging to the partner of the man who cannot be named, arranging a 20-minute meeting in a supermarket car park.
Mottram, Kay, Bennett and the man were all arrested later that day and £200,000 in cash was recovered from Kay and Bennett’s house.
Mottram, of Vermont Close, Great Sankey, Warrington, admitted misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and unauthorised access to computer material, at an earlier court hearing.
Kay admitted perverting the course of justice at an earlier hearing.
He was sentenced to two years and six months in jail.
A charge of perverting the course of justice against Bennett was dropped by prosecutors.
John McKeon, head of the NCA’s anti-corruption unit, said: “Operation Venetic is a once-in-a-generation investigation which has made a huge contribution to public protection.
“More than 1,240 offenders have been convicted, more than 173 firearms recovered and more than nine tonnes of heroin and cocaine seized. More than 200 threats to life were averted.
“But Mottram’s actions had the potential to derail all that.
Assistant Chief Constable Jo Edwards, head of the North West ROCU, said: “The overwhelming majority of people who work in policing do so to protect the public from harm, and they devote years of service to that end.
“Sadly, the actions of Natalie Mottram undermine the good work that is being done daily by her colleagues here at the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit.”
Superintendent Simon Parsonage, head of professional standards at Cheshire Constabulary, said: “As this case demonstrates, nobody is above the law and I want to reassure the public that we are committed to doing all we can to root out any officers or staff who fail to meet the high standards that the people of Cheshire expect and deserve.”
The NCA inquiry was part of an Independent Office for Police Conduct-directed investigation.
Rosemary Ainslie, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Special Crime Division, added: “Mottram’s corrupt actions were a gross breach of trust and had the potential to be hugely damaging to a very important and large-scale investigation into EncroChat and organised crime.
“It is clear she displayed a flagrant disregard to policies around handling sensitive information and fell well below the standard expected of a police employee.”