A PROLIFIC gang member whose drug dealing ravaged Dearne Valley communities has been jailed - after he was found to be using an encrypted messaging platform to distribute heroin and cocaine.

Jamie Bermingham, 44, was wanted by officers in connection with Class A drug offences, following a complex investigation as part of Operation Venetic.

Operation Venetic is a National Crime Agency-led investigation into the UK dismantlement of Encrochat - an encrypted communications platform that used modified mobile handsets with their microphones, cameras and GPS removed.

Bermingham used Encrochat under the handle ‘HANDYOCRA’ to deal heroin, cocaine and cannabis between March and May in 2020.

Detectives identified Bermingham - who has long-standing ties with organised crime groups peddling drugs in communities such as Bolton-upon-Dearne and Mexborough - from the encrypted data on his device, which led to him being caught for the part he played in distributing drugs via the secret network.

Photographs recovered from his device also showed quantities of controlled Class A and B drugs.

A wanted appeal was circulated for his arrest and in October Bermingham was detained by officers and brought into custody.

He pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of the Class A drugs cocaine and heroin and the Class B drug cannabis during a hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, being sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Detective Sergeant Chris Beaumont said: “For months, if not years, Bermingham thought he was above the law but what he didn’t know was that a team of detectives were able to track his drug deals when he thought nobody was onto him.

“He had long been known to communities as a prominent gang member, having previously been convicted for wounding, assault occasioning ABH, battery and facilitating the acquisition of criminal property.

“Encrochat was supposedly unbreakable, making it popular with organised crime groups, but through Operation Venetic that platform has been infiltrated by law enforcement agencies leading to drug dealers like Bermingham being arrested and prosecuted for their crimes.

“Bermingham will already be known locally as a prolific gang member in the Edlington area and I hope the community there can feel safer knowing he is now where he belongs.

“This has been a long and complex investigation involving many officers and staff and I’m pleased Bermingham is now behind bars for a lengthy amount of time.”

Bermingham’s the second high-profile gang member to be jailed this year after Jahmaine Watson, who received a seven-year sentence for being involved with the Pitsmoor Shotta Boys.

The gang - which originated in Sheffield - took hold in the Barnsley after several members were rehoused, leading the surrounding villages to be swamped with drugs, police say.

Barnsley was subsequently selected by the Home Office to take part in a National Crime Agency pilot scheme - Clear, Hold and Build - which puts action plans in place to combat OCGs in strongholds already known by the police.

An OCG-related meeting is now held each month with lead officers and staff from the town’s neighbourhood hubs based in the town centre, Cudworth, Penistone, Royston, Hoyland and Goldthorpe.

Inspector Adrian Luscombe added: “Bermingham has long been known for his links to OCGs in this area and his incarceration will massively impact the activities of these groups.

“We have made significant strides in tearing apart their operations and I hope the people can share our relief in knowing Bermingham is now behind bars for a very long time.

““Drugs and weapon supplies along with violence and antisocial behaviour are all linked to OCGs and this behaviour had previously wreaked misery and havoc on the community.

“We are building more and more intelligence on these groups and the criminals associated with them.

“We have enquiries and lengthy investigations ongoing and we remain determined to dismantle these groups and stop them from inflicting any more harm on our communities.”

* If you want to report information or concerns anonymously, you can get in touch with the independent charity Crimestoppers via their website - www.crimestoppers-uk-org - or by calling 0800 555 111.