POLICE have seized guns, explosives and drugs worth more than £25 million in Scotland following an "unprecedented" operation involving the takedown of an encrypted chat service used by criminals. 

More than £7 million of laundered cash has also been recovered, alongside six stolen cars and a stolen motorcycle. 

Officers said they had arrested 59 people in the "broadest and deepest ever operation into serious organised crime".

It comes as part of a Europe-wide swoop centred on an encrypted messaging service called Encrochat, which police say was used exclusively by criminals.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Angela McLaren said it is "absolutely committed to disrupting" organised crime.

She said: “These intelligence-led proactive operations, which have been undertaken in partnership with the National Crime Agency (NCA), UK police forces and Border Force, have resulted in some of the largest seizures made by the service."

Cocaine, heroin, cannabis, herbal cannabis and thousands of Etizolam tablets have been seized, as well as industrial pill presses and ammunition. 

On several occasions between April and June on the M74 - the main travel route between Scotland and England - dozens of vehicles were stopped and drugs were found.

The move formed part of Operation Venetic, the most significant ever UK operation into serious and organised crime involving Police Scotland, the NCA and police forces across the country.

French investigators managed to access Encrochat - an encrypted mobile phone instant messaging service used by 60,000 people worldwide, including around 10,000 in the UK - after four years of work by international teams.

The company, which charged £1,500 for a device on a six-month contract, sent out a warning to users in early June to say that its servers had been hacked by a government entity.

This left investigators with a race against time to make the most of the wealth of information available on the platform, targeting "Mr and Mrs Bigs" before they could cover their tracks.

International investigators were also going after the team who ran Encrochat, who they said led "luxury lifestyles", although the technology itself is not illegal.

NCA director of investigations Nikki Holland said the breach - described by one official as like breaking the Enigma code - was like "having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country".

So far, officers in the UK have arrested 746 suspects and seized more than £54m in cash, as well as 55 sports cars and 73 luxury watches.

They have taken control of more than two tonnes of class A and B drugs, as well as 28 million street valium pills - a drug that has caused a number of deaths in Scotland.

A total of 77 guns, including sub machine guns, as well as 1,800 rounds of ammunition and four grenades have also been seized.

The NCA said UK law enforcement had dealt with more than 200 threats to life and had "undoubtedly" prevented murders between rival gangs.

These included chilling plots to remove limbs, stage acid attacks and carry out shootings as part of turf wars.

Law enforcement have been aware of Encrochat for some years.

Drug dealers Andrew Venna and Matthew Cornwall, who operated in Gloucester and Stroud, used the devices before they were jailed in May 2019; as did Mark Fellows and Steven Boyle, who were jailed for life last year for the 2015 gangland killings of John Kinsella and Paul Massey in Liverpool.

After the platform was accessed, investigators were able to monitor thousands of Encrochat handsets and analyse millions of messages to get information on drug dealing, the sale of illegal guns and money laundering.

Several organised crime gangs active in the UK, a number in double figures, have been dismantled.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, chair of Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, said: “This has been one of Police Scotland’s most significant operations, combining the knowledge and resources of local policing with the service’s enhanced national capabilities. 

"It also underlines the importance of continued cross-border co-operation in law enforcement, as well as the value of the partnerships forged through Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce and our highly-prized Scottish Crime Campus.

“Once again the professionalism of Scotland’s police officers and support staff is evident in disrupting criminal activities and reducing the harm and misery inflicted on our communities.

Gerry Mclean, the NCA’s regional head of investigations for Scotland, said: “This piece of activity in Scotland and across the UK was unprecedented in scale. 

"It is without doubt the broadest and deepest ever operation into serious organised crime, with the people targeted at the top end of the criminal tree.

“The NCA has worked with international partners and every single police force across the UK, but the extraordinary results we have had here is testimony to the partnership we have with Police Scotland, the support from COPFs and the strategy set by Scotland’s Organised Crime Task Force.

“By working together we have had tremendous success in penetrating organised criminal networks, seizing huge amounts of criminal cash, stopping firearms and drugs reaching our streets and protecting the people of Scotland.”