Grinning beer snap helped jail cocaine boss who believed he was undetectable

A smiling photo of a big time drug dealer enjoying a beer in the garden was used as key evidence in his dramatic downfall.

Sporting a red Armani T-shirt and grinning at the camera, Leon Atkinson was a target criminal for Greater Manchester Police and a reported close friend of notorious cop killer Dale Cregan.

Police believe Atkinson had been the leader of a Tameside organised crime group for over a decade, Manchester Evening News reported.

Back in 2013, while on trial alongside Cregan, he was cleared of murdering Mark Short and the attempted murder of three others.

Cregan later admitted to killing 23-year-old Mark Short as well as his father David, 46, and police officers Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23 in a cowardly ambush.

It was alleged that Atkinson had recruited Cregan to commit the murder of Mark Short after his mother had been slapped 12 days earlier by a member of the Short family.

A jury however cleared him of all charges and he remained a free man.

But his luck changed when a photo of him enjoying a beer in the sunshine was discovered after law enforcement agencies managed to infiltrate the "secret" Encrochat network used by criminals to talk to each other.

The snap, which was taken on April 8, 2020, was found by police on Jason Cox's phone as they looked into the drug-dealing activities of the Salford-based Cox family.

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Atkinson messaged the Cox clan to negotiate buying half of £1m worth of cocaine they had stolen from a Liverpool crime gang.

It is believed by police that Atkinson knew the cocaine had been nabbed from other criminals but was not aware it had been taxed from such a dangerous firm.

Detective Chief Inspector, Roger Smethurst, of GMP, commenting on the picture Atkinson sent Jason Cox, said: "He became so confident in the security of these devices that they became very blasé 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 Atkinson has been head of an organised crime group for the last ten years. He bought 15kg of cocaine (from the Cox brothers) unwittingly and then finds himself in caught in the middle of a major dispute between the Cox and the Liverpool gang. He knows that it is taxed but not who it has been taxed from."

Atkinson was sentenced to 15 years in prison at Manchester Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and conspiracy to transfer criminal property.

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