Pigeon-fancying drug dealer caught after sharing picture of his garden in encrypted messages

Stephen Gildea
Stephen Gildea

A pigeon-fancying drug dealer was caught by police after sharing images of his pigeon loft on an encrypted messaging app.

Stephen Gildea, 37, of Aintree in Merseyside, was jailed for 11 years and three months for conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin after he gave away his location on the encrypted EncroChat network.

Operating under the handles “frosty-hill” and “wuhan-who”, Mr Gildea shared an image showing a pigeon loft at the end of his property, and the distinctive garden was used by police officers to identify his home address.

He spoke about his love of pigeon racing on the app, which he also used to send images of drugs. He was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Inspector Peter McCullough said: "Gildea, like many offenders before him, thought he was hiding behind a secure communications system. Instead, he collected damning evidence of his own large-scale drug supply and will face a long spell in prison.

"Those who supply drugs across Merseyside and beyond cause incalculable harm, and we will continue to see offenders passing through the courts in days and weeks to come. Each person jailed makes our communities safer."

The image which gave away Stephen Gildea's location
The image which gave away Stephen Gildea's location

He is not the first criminal to be foiled by sending images of pets and hobbies on the encrypted network.

In December 2022, Danny Brown, 55, the member of an organised crime group attempting to send £45 million worth of the drug MDMA to Australia, was identified by detectives who hacked the app after he used it to send a photograph of his French Bulldog.

Zooming in on the image, investigators were able to see his partner’s phone number on the dog’s collar tag, which they used to build a case against Brown and six other conspirators, jailing the men for a total of 140 years.