Daily Express (September 2012)


September 22, 2012 by Adrian Lee

BALDING, bespectacled and middle-aged, Robert Tyrer was an unlikely dealer in illegal firearms. However he was known as “Bobby the Gun” for good reason.

Down the years the 57-year-old made numerous trips to Germany, buying replica pistols for £40 a time before smuggling them into the UK. On an anonymous industrial estate on the outskirts of Manchester the weapons were re-bored so that they were capable of firing live ammunition. On the street the guns fetched £700 each and he and his accomplices supplied almost 300. Ultimately, Tyrer planned to build a gun factory in Spain converting thousands of replicas every year.

Bobby the Gun is now doing time but many of his guns remain untraced. The fatal shooting of two unarmed policewomen in the city this week has highlighted the threat posed by illegal weapons in Britain. Chillingly, grenades were also used in the attack that claimed the lives of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes. That has also raised fears that gang members have an increasingly deadly and varied arsenal – including explosives – at their disposal.

There have been plenty of cases involving armourers, such as Tyrer, who have the contacts and are willing to supply weapons to criminals if the price is right. But just where do these guns and explosives have their origins?

In most cases the trail begins overseas in war zones, countries where there has been relatively recent conflict or where gun laws are lax. Controls on our borders are tight but for every success by the authorities intercepting shipments of firearms destined for the underworld, countless more slip through the net. It is thought that former Soviet republics and the United States are the most popular shopping destinations for the gunrunners who are importing death to the UK’s streets.

Parts of former Yugoslavia are also said to offer cheap pickings for the suppliers. Police believe the batch of grenades used in this week’s attack on the police officers began their journey there. It was the fourth time in Manchester that grenades have been used in little more than a month.

Firearms consultant and lawyer David Dyson says:

“A lot of this stuff comes from the former Soviet Union where controls are lax. All you need is money. These weapons have been left at the back door by former military establishments. If you look online you can see videos of Russians using hand grenades for fishing. That probably tells you all you need to know about the easy availability of explosives. Illegal weapons come from wherever there has been a recent fight going on. In those situations there will always be plenty of weaponry that’s unaccounted for.”

Dyson believes there is a network of professional gunrunners supplying firearms, typically in small shipments of about a dozen at a time.

To reduce suspicion, the favoured routes often involve a detour through another EU country before arrival in Britain. The price depends on the desperation of the buyer but the cost of a pistol such as the Austrian-made Glock is typically about £1,500. To reduce the risk of detection it makes sense for dealers to buy weapons legally.

In many states of the US it is perfectly legitimate to buy pistols and revolvers. In countries such as Lithuania weapons made by the Baikal company and designed to fire rubber bullets or CS gas for selfdefence can also be picked up easily and cheaply.

For a skilled gunsmith using the cover of a back-street engineering workshop it’s a relatively straightforward job to convert them by adding a 9mm barrel and silencer. Worryingly, Dyson has noticed a trend for more sophisticated weapons including the MAC-10, a small, fully automatic machine gun.

Unlike shotguns, which are big and bulky, they are easily concealed and capable of delivering lethal bursts. The MAC-10, nicknamed “spray and pray”, was used in the unsolved killing of 24-year-old Larry Malone. He was shot seven times as he sat on his aunt’s sofa in south London three years ago and the volley of bullets stopped only because the gun jammed.

Ironically, one reason why these guns have not become even more popular is the high cost of bullets, at around £5 each. A gang member told the authors of a Home Office commissioned report:

“One spray is £150. Because it is a road sweeper you don’t use it for shooting someone or doing a robbery, it’s a waste of time… you can’t aim it, it goes everywhere.”

But Dyson adds: “Firearms are status symbols. A machine gun gives a gangster incredible streetcred. The tragedy of the incident in Manchester this week is that, until now, it has usually just been criminals shooting one another.”

The use of grenades is thought to be a first on mainland Britain but Dyson adds:

“Nothing surprises me. Grenades and rocket launchers exist so if anyone throws the right money at suppliers they can be bought.”

DETECTIVES believe the deaths of the two officers are linked to a wider feud between two criminal families and have warned that more lives are at risk.

Ben Black, author of Shooters (Milo Books), about Manchester’s gang culture, says:

“The gang scene has recently been reasonably quiet but the concern is that these shootings will lead to a new cycle of violence. The use of grenades takes the threat to another level and police will want to know how they are arriving in the city.”

Liverpool, being a port, has been a traditional supply route for firearms.

“If there’s a supply of weapons criminals are more likely to use them to settle petty grievances which might otherwise end with a slap.”

Dale Cregan, 29, has been charged with murdering the two policewomen and killing a father and son in separate gun and grenade attacks.

Although firearms offences fell last year, guns were used in more than 6,000 crimes in the UK and each major incident leads to renewed calls for police to be routinely armed.

One sign that police may be stemming the flow of weapons is analysis by the National Ballistics Intelligence Service, which suggests guns are shared around because they are hard to come by. Every time a gun is fired it leaves a “fingerprint” on the bullet.

Combining those marks with police investigations on a giant database reveals patterns of use across the country. In most cases guns are tied to a particular area but occasionally the same weapon has been linked to separate shootings hundreds of miles apart.

By targeting armourers such as Bobby the Gun the authorities claim they are cutting off the supply to gangsters. Britain has some of the toughest gun laws in the world and the police insist it’s a myth that weapons are widely, or easily, available.

In one audacious sting operation, police opened a fake hip-hop music shop called Boombox in north London. They encouraged the idea that the shop was a meeting point for gang members and detected scores of guntraffi cking offences.

On one occasion they captured on CCTV a man selling undercover police four guns. He had travelled to the shop on a busy bus with the loaded weapons in a plastic bag.

Yet the unanswerable question is, just how many illegal weapons are still circulating? David Dyson says:

“All you can say with much certainty is that thousands will be in criminal hands.”

Smugglers seeking big profits

A SERIES of recent court cases gives an insight into the sources and supply routes of illegal firearms.

Last year two ring-leaders of a gang which smuggled guns from the US were jailed for 24 years.

Mohammed Tariq, 33, and Atique Arif, 32, helped to import guns concealed among electrical equipment, including DVD players and portable radios. The guns were bought from a dealer in Texas who would break them down into parts and conceal them within the consignments destined for addresses across Bradford.

Also in 2011, a former US marine who packed pistols into his luggage and smuggled them aboard commercial flights from the US to Britain was jailed for 10 years by an American judge.

Steven Greenoe was accused of purchasing 63 pistols from gun shops in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, and taking them apart before hiding the components in suitcases and carrying them to Britain, where they could be sold for 10 times the price he had paid. The case exposed serious flaws in aviation security.

Although the Ministry of Defence plays down the threat, the involvement of military personnel in the trade is also alarming. Earlier this year a former soldier was jailed for 10 years after smuggling a cache of guns and ammunition from Iraq into the UK in a tank.

Ricardo McKenzie, 35, joined the army in April 2001 as a private in the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment but sneaked the weapons into the UK.

His deadly cargo included a Hungarian-made semi-automatic assault rifle – similar to an AK-47 – and a Colt 45 self-loading handgun.

Two former soldiers who were jailed for their involvement in a gun-smuggling ring claimed the practice is common in the British Army.

Shane Pleasant and Ben Whitfield were in the 3rd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, when they helped to smuggle weapons from Iraq into Europe.

They said if soldiers had the right contacts it was easy to smuggle weapons out of countries. The two soldiers told the BBC in 2008 that weapons could be obtained in Iraq or Afghanistan by buying or stealing from locals and foreign police.

See the original story on the Express website here.

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