UK

Two men found guilty over UK gun smuggling

Michael Defraine (L) and Harry Shilling (R) Image copyright NCA
Image caption Michael Defraine (left) and Harry Shilling had denied charges of conspiring to import and sell firearms

Two men have been found guilty at the Old Bailey of smuggling assault rifles and sub-machine guns into the UK.

Harry Shilling, 26, and Michael Defraine, 30, were part of a gang that brought weapons worth £100,000 on a boat from France to Kent last August.

National Crime Agency detectives had them under surveillance and made what they say was the largest-ever weapons seizure on the UK mainland.

Two other defendants, Jennifer Arthy, 42, and John Smale, 58, were cleared.

The NCA's head of specialist operations, Rob Lewin, said: "These are hugely powerful firearms, and have, as the prosecution stated in court, a truly devastating capability.

"We cannot say for certain what the organised crime group would have done with the weapons had they not been stopped. But the evidence pointed to them not being afraid to use guns themselves to expand their influence.

"They wanted to move up in the criminal world from regional to international gangsters. The group was motivated by profit, so we can only speculate that some of these weapons would have been sold to whoever had the means to pay the asking price."

'Serious danger'

After Shilling and Defraine were found guilty of conspiring to import and sell the weapons, the judge, Mr Justice Topolski, told them they both faced the possibility of life sentences.

"Criminals like you at or near the top of criminal organisations invariably pose a serious danger to the public," he said.

A life sentence would come in for "serious consideration", he added.

Image copyright NCA
Image caption Skorpion sub-machine guns were among the weapons seized by the police

David Payne, 43, Richard Rye, 24, and Christopher Owen, 30, had already pleaded guilty to smuggling the weapons into the country.

Payne and Rye also admitted the second count relating to conspiracy to sell the arsenal.

All five will be sentenced on 13 May.

The guns - 22 assault rifles similar to AK-47s, and nine Skorpion sub-machine guns - were brought into the UK from Boulogne on a 38ft (12m) cruiser, the MV Albernina, the court heard.

All had originally been deactivated but were reactivated before they, along with a large amount of ammunition, were smuggled up the Medway into Kent, arriving near Cuxton Marina on 10 August last year.

But detectives had the plotters under surveillance and swooped to seize the cache before it could be buried and then sold, the court heard.

Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption National Crime Agency investigators filmed the gang from the other side of the river

The court heard each of the 22 Czech-made assault rifles would have fetched up to £4,000, even though they were sold at "shockingly low" prices in Eastern Europe.

The Skorpion machine guns, originally developed for use by Czech special forces, would have netted £3,500 apiece.

On 11 August, the gang was seen by investigators unloading the cruiser, the jury was told, and a number of large heavy bags were loaded into a white van which was driven away by Payne.

Shilling and Defraine were arrested outside a branch of the DIY store Homebase, where they had just bought spades and other tools, the court heard.

Image copyright NCA
Image caption More than 20 AK-47-style assault rifles were also in the haul
Image copyright NCA
Image caption The prosecution said there was a "large amount of working ammunition"

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