The investigation commenced following the interception of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and two hand guns by Border Force officers at an international parcel hub in the Midlands earlier this month. Officers recovered the firearms and ammunition haul during a raid at a house in Ardkeen, Newtownards on the morning of Friday 15 November.
A 61-year old man, who lived at the property and is a registered firearms holder, was arrested and released under investigation.
NCA branch commander David Cunningham commented: “This operation is an excellent example of the co-operation between the NCA, the PSNI and our Border Force colleagues. Together, we have identified and recovered a significant quantity of illegal firearms and ammunition that could have been used to commit serious violence or other criminality.”
Attempted gun smuggling
In parallel, two London men have been jailed for nearly 17 years for attempting to smuggle four Heckler and Koch handguns and 100 rounds of 9 mm ammunition into the UK.
Steven Landers, 56, of London Road in Elephant and Castle and Steven Mulroe, 41, of Yelverton Road in Battersea were both sentenced to eight years and three months each at Maidstone Crown Court.
NCA officers began an investigation after firearms and ammunition were found by Border Force in May this year.
Searching the car, officers found the stash in a bag underneath the boot carpet floor of the BMW being driven by Landers at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Coquelles. The pair were then arrested.
During interview, Landers claimed to NCA investigators they were going to Amsterdam to ‘visit brothels and smoke’ and knew nothing about the firearms and ammunition found in the car. However, as it was raining so hard they stopped the car and went to a hotel for the night leaving the car in the road nearby.
Landers could not remember what country he was in or the name of the hotel. He told NCA officers that ‘someone must have put the guns in the car’ without his knowledge.
Further investigation by the NCA
Further investigation by NCA officers revealed the pair knew exactly where they had been. Data retrieved from Mulroe’s phone showed he had used Wi-Fi at a hotel in Antwerp.
Officers found a parking ticket found showing the pair had stayed at a hotel in Breukelen in the Netherlands. They also found a receipt for £4,000 which had been changed into Euros from a money exchange shop in Tooting. No cash was found on either man when they were searched.
Landers and Mulroe were later charged with the illegal importation of firearms. They pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
NCA branch commander Martin Grace observed: “The nature and scale of organised crime is becoming ever-more complex, with criminal networks using a variety of methods to attempt to move firearms across international borders. Disrupting those supply routes is a priority for the NCA and our partners, and this operation is an example of that in action. In seizing these weapons, which were undoubtedly destined for the criminal marketplace, we’ve protected the people of the UK from the violence they would have inflicted.”