Gangsters smuggled haul of guns from same source as Charlie Hebdo terror attack
Gangsters behind Britain's biggest known gun smuggling operation are facing life behind bars for shipping £100,000 of weapons from the same source used in the Charlie Hebdo terror attack
Mastermind Harry Shilling bragged "we now officially gangsters" after 22 assault rifles and nine Skorpion sub-machine guns from Eastern Europe sailed up the River Medway from Boulogne in France.
The 23-year-old and Michael Defraine, 30, were found guilty of gun smuggling and possessing firearms with intent to endanger life following a trial held at the Old Bailey amid almost unprecedented security.
They will be sentenced along with the rest of the gang, skipper David Payne, 43, Richard Rye, 24, and Christopher Owen, 30, who had already pleaded guilty.
John Smale, 58, and Payne's partner Jennifer Arthy, 42, were cleared of the charges they faced.
Judge Michael Topolski QC said he will give "serious consideration" for life sentences as he adjourned to a later date.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) hailed it as the biggest seizure of these deadly guns on British soil.
Although the gang had no connection with terrorism, the source and route of the weapons was the same as those used in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris just over six months before, the NCA said.
The Albernina vessel arrived with the "evil" cargo near Cuxton Marina, outside Rochester in Kent, on August 10 last year.
But the NCA had the plotters under surveillance and swooped to seize the deadly cache before it could be buried and then passed into the wrong hands.
Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC said Shilling masterminded the plan and paid for the guns, with help from his man on the Continent, Defraine, and "loyal lieutenant" and "go-between" Rye.
Payne brought the guns into the country on board the Albernina.
On arriving back in the UK, Shilling emailed: "We now officially gangsters," and Defraine replied "F***ing nice one".
Shilling emailed back: "Hahahaha defo that's sick. Duck and run for cover bitches. We are a firm ant we', and Defraine responded: "Proper heavy and armed to the teeth no one wants beef fam."
Shilling also exchanged messages with a mystery contact "B" to arrange the onward supply of the guns.
On August 11, Shilling, Defraine and Rye were arrested after visiting DIY store Homebase to buy bags and tools to bury the guns until they were needed.
In his defence, Shilling said his long-time friend Rye was the real "puppet master" and he only worked for him collecting and dealing in cannabis.
Shilling gave his occupation as a breeder of dogs and game birds. He also had an Emu as a family pet - which had been "arrested" in the past.
He denied that an encrypted BlackBerry phone with the incriminating messages on it was his.
The prosecution suggested that because Shilling was the boss, the name "Kaiser" on the mobile was a reference to the film character Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects.
Like the film character, they said, Shilling acted the fool but was really the mastermind.
But Shilling said Kaiser was in fact the name of Rye's dog, backing up his claim that the phone was not his.
He said he went to Romania to buy a Caucasian Shepherd puppy called "Misty" and the trip had nothing to do with setting up a guns deal.
In turn, Defraine, nicknamed Daffy, denied being Shilling's man on the Continent.
He told jurors he worked for Rye buying and selling cars and had planned to set up a new motor dealership in Belgium.
On his arrest in the car park of Homebase with the so-called "burial kit", his lawyer David Taylor said he had been "left holding the baby" as Shilling had a "panic attack" and Rye had a "Mac attack" as he darted off to McDonald's.
Shilling, from Swanley; Defraine, from Bexleyheath; Smale, from Rochester; and Arthy, who lived with Payne on a houseboat in Cuxton, denied the charges.
Rye, Payne and Owen had pleaded guilty to their part in the smuggling conspiracy. Payne and Rye, from Swanley, also admitted conspiracy to supply firearms that would be used by others to endanger life.
Following the convictions, Rob Lewin, NCA head of specialist operations, said: "This seizure of automatic weapons was the largest ever made by the NCA - and, we believe, the largest ever on the UK mainland.
"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."
Tom Guest, from the Crown Prosecution Service, added: "This was a sophisticated operation involving weapons with a lethal capacity. The CPS built a strong case, working with the NCA, Kent Police and international partners, not only around the organised crime gang's plot to import the weapons - but also about the intentions for their deadly future use.
"Each defendant played an important role in this operation and was well aware of the danger of these firearms, and the consequences of their use."