A fourth member of an organised crime group has been jailed for conspiring to supply more than £12 million of counterfeit banknotes.
Farningham resident Andrew Ainsworth’s imprisonment follows a lengthy and complex investigation by specialist detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, including the single largest face-value seizure of fake currency in UK history following a raid at an industrial unit in Beckenham.
Support was also provided by the Bank of England and counterfeit currency officers from the National Crime Agency.
Ainsworth, 61, of Old Dartford Road, was found guilty of conspiring to produce counterfeit currency following a trial at Woolwich Crown Court in March 2022. He was sentenced to five-and-a-half years at the same location on Friday 29 April.
Three other members of the same criminal network Ainsworth belonged to were sentenced to a combined total of 22-and-a-half years in January 2021, having admitted to their involvement in the conspiracy. A further four men were found not guilty after going on trial alongside Ainsworth.
Detectives were able to prove that Ainsworth had strong financial and personal connections to those who had already admitted their involvement in the conspiracy. This included him being present during meetings the group held in public, and his attendance at the printing press in Beckenham.
An investigation into the group’s activities began in January 2019. This was around the same time the Bank of England identified a new counterfeit paper £20 note entering general circulation, which appeared to have been produced using the type of specialist printing equipment that would normally be associated with a company that produces large volumes of magazines or leaflets.
Enquiries established parts and materials associated with the production of fake currency on a commercial scale had been ordered and were linked to a printing press owned by one of the conspirators in Kent House Lane, Beckenham.
After several months of investigating those believed to be involved, including mobile phone analysis, a search warrant was carried out at the press on Saturday 4 May 2019.
Inside officers found two men surrounded by printing equipment and large piles of counterfeit £20 notes, which were later confirmed as having a total face value of £5.25 million – believed to be the largest face-value seizure of counterfeit currency in history.
Video footage of the warrant at the printing press in Beckenham
A subsequent search of an address in Longfield led to the discovery of a list of names with numbers next to them that added up to 5.25 million – the same value of the counterfeit notes. The names on the list included those that either belonged to, or were nicknames of, those suspected of being involved in the conspiracy including Ainsworth.
In the months that followed, further large amounts of counterfeit currency believed to have been printed by them continued to be discovered.
On Wednesday 9 October 2019, a dog walker found around £5 million worth of fake banknotes dumped in Halt Robin Road, Belvedere. A further £200,940 was found scattered along the railway line between Farningham and Longfield on Wednesday 15 January 2020, with the Bank of England having already identified and removed around £1.8 million from general circulation.
Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Pritchard, Head of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: ‘The sentencing of Andrew Ainsworth marks the culmination of a complex investigation in which no stone was left unturned in clamping down on an organised crime group who went to great lengths to literally create their own wealth.
‘Counterfeiting is not a victimless act because it directly funds other types of serious organised crime and hurts the UK economy by creating losses for businesses, which ultimately affects the cost of the things we buy. It also has a direct impact on those who receive counterfeit notes in exchange for goods or services, and who are unable to pass on what are essentially worthless pieces of paper.
‘The printing press our officers raided in Beckenham was supposed to produce magazines, leaflets and flyers but instead contained the largest face-value quantity of counterfeit cash ever discovered in the UK. This was a professionally run operation but those involved were naïve if they thought they could carry on undetected.
‘Kent Police remains committed to working with partners including the NCA and Bank of England to ensure those who print counterfeit currency are brought to justice, sending a clear message to others that this type of offending is not tolerated.’
Neil Harris of the NCA’s Counterfeit Currency Unit said: ‘This operation prevented millions in counterfeit notes from entering circulation. Had the conspirators remained undetected, the effects would have been felt by innocent people across the UK going about their day-to-day business, particularly retailers who would have lost most of that value.
‘As well as convicting those involved in the actual printing of the notes, this investigation resulted in the convictions of those who supplied finance and would have been involved in the wholesale distribution of the counterfeit notes.
‘Serious and organised criminals will always seek ways to maximise their profits and legitimise money made through crime, the consequences of which can seriously impact the economy.
‘Identifying this and working with partners to combat illicit finances, which enables further crime, is a focus for the NCA.’