‘Life-long criminal’ imported lethal handguns into UK
A 37-year-old man from Slough has been convicted for his part in importing what is believed to be one of the “largest hauls of firearms seized in the UK”.
The 96 ‘lethal firearms’, packaged with thousands of rounds of ammunition, were seized following an investigation by the joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service Organised Crime Partnership (OCP).
Stephen Spires, who admitted to never having had “a proper job”, was convicted of possession of firearms in July 2018 as part of the conspiracy.
Following a retrial that lasted two and a half weeks, he was yesterday (December 18) also found guilty of working with Denis Kulencukov, 26, and Michael Nicholls, 28, (both convicted in 2018) to importing the weapons into the UK from mainland Europe.
Kolencukov was arrested on July 1, 2017, after 79 handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized by Border Force officers based at Coqeulles, France, following information supplied by the OCP.
The weapons were hidden in specially adapted concealments in engine blocks on the trailer of a van, which was en route to the UK.
The driver, a Polish courier, had collected the engines from Kolencukov at the Orlen petrol station in Boleslawiec, Poland, the previous day, unaware of their lethal contents.
A diary seized from the courier had entries detailing six other previous importations conducted by Kolencukov, all of which were believed to contain firearms and ammunition.
Phone records showed that before each trip to the continent, Kolencukov was in contact with Spires, with the level of contact between them increasing on his return.
Investigators believe the pair were discussing the imminent importations so that Spires could make the arrangements for their onward distribution.
On July 3, 2017, OCP officers conducting surveillance on an industrial estate in Seaborough, Slough, watched as Spires and Nicholls removed items from a shipping container and attempted to drive away in a van.
With support from armed Thames Valley Police officers, the van was stopped and the pair arrested. Nine firearms were recovered stashed in a plastic carrier bag in the front passenger footwell.
Officers discovered another firearm in the shipping container, and a further seven were recovered in police operations across the UK, bringing the total seized as part of this operation to 96.
All three men will be sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on January 24, 2020.
Tony O’Sullivan from the OCP said: “Spires played a key role in importing what is believed to be one of the largest haul of firearms seized in the UK.
“Not only were all 96 firearms viable weapons, they were packaged up with thousands of rounds of ammunition. I have no doubt they would have been sold for profit on the criminal market.
“Although the level of gun crime in the UK remains one of the lowest in the world, we know that handguns like these are still the most commonly used firearms.
“They are easily concealable, making them the firearm of choice by criminal groups, who use them to bring fear and violence to streets of the UK. Stopping their onward distribution has protected the British public and no doubt prevented gang-related shootings.”