UK Court Upholds Sentencing for Drug Offenses Using Encrypted Communication: R v Tom Greenfield Case Highlights Role Classification and Aggravating Factors

Citation: [2023] EWCA Crim 1294
Judgment on


The case of R v Tom Greenfield involves the analysis of sentencing for drug-related offences in the UK, particularly focusing on the application of the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for drug offences, the role classification for an offender in the drug supply chain, and the use of encrypted communication services as an aggravating factor. The judgment also touches upon the relevance of an offender’s previous convictions and their reflection in the sentencing outcome.

Key Facts

The appellant, Tom Greenfield, pleaded guilty to three counts of drug-related offences—conspiracy to supply Class A and Class B drugs (cocaine and cannabis, respectively) and conspiracy to transfer criminal property. The offenses were discovered as a result of “Operation Venetic,” which involved infiltrating the encrypted communication network EncroChat. The appellant used the handles “Viperpainter” and “Rabidbass” on EncroChat. At sentencing, the appellant received 11 years and 3 months for count 1 (Class A drugs), with concurrent 2 years and 3 months for counts 2 and 3, summing to a total sentence of 11 years and 3 months’ imprisonment.

The legal principles applied in this case include the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline effective from April 1, 2021, for supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug. According to the guideline, category 1 harm applies due to the volume of Class A drugs (5 kilograms) involved. The role of the offender is considered between leading and significant, with a potential starting point of 14 years if playing a leading role, and 10 years if a significant role is determined.

The application of the guideline suggests a range of 12-16 years for a leading role and 9-12 years for a significant role. In this case, the judge identified the applicant’s role as within these parameters and increased the starting point of 13 years by a further 2 years to account for the use of EncroChat. The judge’s assessment was rigorously debated in this case, considering the appellant’s criminal history, the involvement of EncroChat encrypted communication, and overall criminality.


The legal arguments presented by the appellant revolved around questioning the sentence’s starting point, the additional uplift for using encrypted communications, and the consideration of the appellant’s past criminal record. However, both the single judge and the appeal panel affirmed the sentence, agreeing that the uplift was appropriate due to the use of EncroChat as an aggravating factor. The role categorization as bottom end of the leading range or top end of the significant range was also upheld, as were the concurrent sentences.


Ultimately, the EWCA upheld the original sentencing decision, refusing the appellant’s leave to appeal. The judgment reaffirms the principles of the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline and upholds the court’s discretion in determining the role of an offender in drug-related cases and the use of encrypted messaging as an aggravating factor for such offenses. Additionally, it underscores the court’s consideration of an offender’s criminal history, emphasizing that even less recent antecedents do not automatically warrant a reduced sentence. This case illustrates the courts’ robust approach to drug-related offences and marks a significant stance against the use of encrypted services to facilitate such illegal activities.