Crown Prosecution Service
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Criminal gang found guilty of large-scale drug and gun running

Three members of a Birmingham based gang which was involved in supplying class A drugs and sourcing firearms were yesterday (1 June 2023) convicted at Birmingham Crown Court.

Gang leader Danyal Aziz, 28, from Stechford, was convicted of conspiring to supply class A drugs, possession of firearms and money laundering related offences; Michael Earp, 32, from Shard End was convicted of drugs and firearms offences; and Nicole Rhone, 29, from Bordesley Green was convicted of possession of a firearm.

The gang used a rented flat in Sapphire Heights, Hockley, as their base where large amounts of cash and drugs paraphernalia were found. Earp and an associate were captured on CCTV in the Sapphire Height’s carpark exchanging handguns, that they hoped to sell. 

Aziz and his associates were arrested by the National Crime Agency in 2020.  A Skorpion submachine gun loaded with live rounds of ammunition was found in an orange plastic carrier bag under Nicole Rhone’s bed at her home in Bordesley Green, where she was storing it for Aziz and, her cousin, Earp.   Additional ammunition was found in her child’s bedroom.

CCTV from April 2020 showed Aziz and Earp retrieving and later returning an orange package from Rhone’s address.

Messaging between the two men suggested that the orange package contained the gun, with Aziz telling Earp ‘Go grab the skorps load it up … with the fresh sweets’ (the sweets referring to ammunition). 

Two of the defendants were using EncroChat encrypted mobile phones, to conduct their illicit enterprise of buying and selling class A drugs (heroin and cocaine). EncroChat messaging also confirmed that they acquired firearms to protect themselves from rival organised criminal gangs.

EncroChat users could set 'burn-times' for the messages they sent and received. In other words, messages would automatically delete after a set period. There was also a 'panic wipe' password by which a user could delete everything on their device. This could be triggered remotely, and these phones cannot be bought via high street stories and normal websites.

The investigation into these defendants relied significantly on EncroChat communications. This enabled the National Crime Agency to read some of the messages that had been sent or received by Aziz and Earp and an associate. Thereafter, the National Crime Agency commenced an investigation, leading to the arrest of Aziz and associates.

Giorgina Venturella, CPS Specialist prosecutor, said:

“The evidence in this case painted a picture of an organised criminal gang deeply entrenched in a lawless lifestyle, and heavily involved in the sale of drugs.

“Firearms and ammunition had become everyday commodities – casually stashed under a child’s bed – used to intimidate and control as the group plied their illegal trade, posing an evident danger to local communities.

“The encrypted phone evidence was key in this case, showing Aziz directing operations from his handle ‘LushMace’, and meant the NCA were able to piece together a detailed picture of the gang’s movements.

“Securing these convictions has taken a group of dangerous criminals off the streets of Birmingham and we will not hesitate to prosecute in cases like this.  We will also now start proceedings to recover illegally gained money and criminal assets.”

NCA Branch Commander Mick Pope said:

“This was a dangerous criminal organisation heavily involved in bringing class A drugs in from abroad and supplying them in Birmingham and throughout the UK.

“They also acquired deadly firearms to scare and intimidate competitors and customers alike, but which of course presented a huge risk to any member of the public.

“It was clear from their EncroChat messages that Aziz was the ringleader of this group, controlling Earp and Rhone to carry out his drugs deliveries and hide weapons.

“This investigation has taken a high risk group off the streets and lethal weapons out of the hands of criminals. The NCA will continue to protect the public from the global trades in illegal drugs and firearms, which bring violence and intimidation to communities through the UK.”

The CPS is committed to working with law enforcement agencies to combat all types of organised criminal gang activity and seek justice for any victims in these cases.

Notes to editors

  • Giorgina Venturella is a Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS Serious Economic Organised and International Directorate (SEOCID) 
  • Danyal Aziz (6 June 1994) of Pelham Road, Stechford convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, two counts of possession of a prohibited firearm, two counts of possession of prohibited ammunition and money laundering
  • Michael Earp (6 December 1990) of Pear Tree Road, Shard End convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, two counts of possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, two counts of possession of prohibited ammunition
  • Nicole Rhone (8 December 1993) of Yardley Green Road, Bordesley convicted of possession of a prohibited firearm and possession of prohibited ammunition


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