One-hundred firearms have been seized and 27 people arrested in the second national operation targeting customers who bought illegal blank-firing weapons online.
The suspects were arrested by the National Crime Agency (NCA) after buying the forward venting blank firing guns from sellers across Europe. While these weapons can be purchased with limited restrictions in many countries, they are illegal in the UK. As they can be readily converted to fire live ammunition, they represent a significant criminal risk.
The operation, which focused around a week of action at the beginning of July, was co-ordinated by the NCA and involved police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) throughout the UK, as well as the Spanish National Police (Comisaría General de Información).
One of those arrested was Richard Hamper, aged 32, from Tile Hill, Coventry. On 18 July this year he was stopped by NCA armed operations officers and found to be carrying a loaded revolver in a backpack. This weapon was originally blank firing, but had been converted.
He pleaded guilty to possession of a section 5 firearm and possessing class B drugs and was remanded in custody until 16 August, when he will be sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court.
Elsewhere across the UK:
- a 54-year old man was arrested in Telford after 14 prohibited firearms and a large amount of ammunition were recovered. Officers also found fake police IDs and the man is currently being investigated for impersonating a police officer.
- a 58-year old man from Cambridge was arrested following the discovery of four front venting blank firers, along with four other prohibited firearms.
- officers from Derby arrested a 52-year old man for importation of a firearm. They also recovered a quantity of class B drugs, £16,000 in cash and bitcoin, together with evidence of involvement in cyber-crime fraud involving identify theft. He was released under investigation.
Further arrests have been made in relation to the seizure of class A drugs, possession of cannabis farm paraphernalia, tasers, and approximately £25,000 cash has been recovered as investigations by partner agencies continue.
The National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) are currently co-ordinating a two-week gun surrender – from 20 July until 4 August – where members of the public can hand in firearms or ammunition to police anonymously. The gun surrender is an amnesty from prosecution at the point of surrender and any firearm including handguns, shotguns, rifles, BB guns, imitations as well as any antique, ex-military weapons or ammunition can be handed in at designated police stations across the UK.
Simon Brough, Firearms Threat Lead at the NCA, said: “This is the second co-ordinated national operation we have run in partnership with forces and ROCUs which targets the online purchase of prohibited firearms. The number of guns seized highlights just how important it is for us to work with overseas partners to close down this vulnerability.
“Collectively we have seized 100 illegal firearms – all of which are capable of inflicting harm. Some of those arrested were also involved with other serious criminality, including drug supply and fraud. These weapons represent a significant part of the European criminal market and these operations assist us in reducing the numbers of guns circulating in the UK.
“Some of those interviewed by officers stated they did not realise the weapons they had purchased were illegal. Whilst that is not an excuse, the NABIS surrender gives people the opportunity to hand in weapons anonymously and I would encourage anyone who has purchased one of these items without realising their legal status to make use of the surrender.
“Gun crime in the UK continues to be relatively low compared to mainland Europe. However, we know that illegal firearms are used in acts of serious violence, as well as being used by crime groups to coerce and intimidate.
“For this reason, suppressing their availability is a priority for the NCA and our law enforcement partners and we will continue to share intelligence and co-ordinate operational activity to reduce the numbers of illegal firearms in the UK”.