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Man accused of masterminding guns plot 'bragged of being gangster'

Published 29/02/2016

Skorpion machine pistols seized during a raid in Kent (NCA/PA)
Skorpion machine pistols seized during a raid in Kent (NCA/PA)

A criminal mastermind bragged "we now officially gangsters" after smuggling a massive arsenal of Eastern European guns into the UK with a street value of more than £100,000, a court has heard.

Harry Shilling was allegedly behind the plan to sail a boat laden with 22 assault rifles and nine sub-machine guns up the River Medway from Boulogne in France.

The cruiser Albernina arrived with the "evil" cargo near Cuxton Marina, near Rochester in Kent, on August 10 last year.

The weapons, which could have found their way to the British drugs markets or for hire within the criminal underworld, were capable of "unleashing carnage on a terrifying scale", jurors at the Old Bailey were told.

But the National Crime Agency (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, the court heard.

Shilling, 25, Michael Defraine, 30, John Smale, 58, and Jennifer Arthy, 42, are on trial accused of gun smuggling and possessing firearms with intent to endanger life.

Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC said the illicit importation was not disputed as Richard Rye, 24, David Payne, 43, and Christopher Owen, 30, had already pleaded guilty. He told jurors that it was for them to decide who else was in on the plot.

Shilling allegedly came up with the plan and paid for the guns, with help from his man on the Continent, Defraine, and "loyal lieutenant" Rye, who acted as a "go-between" with others.

Skipper Payne brought the guns into the country on board the Albernina, which was paid for by Shilling and Rye, the court heard.

Payne's partner Arthy along with Smale and Owen, both from Rochester, were allegedly recruited to help acquire and prepare the vessel and unload its cargo.

Shilling and Defraine travelled regularly to the Continent and phone records allegedly showed how they planned the importation route.

Their BlackBerry mobile phones had been installed with encryption software which the NCA was able to crack to provide "compelling evidence" of their key roles, the court heard.

On August 10, the Albernina, loaded with the firearms, sailed from Boulogne up the River Medway towards Cuxton.

On arriving back in the UK, Payne allegedly texted Rye to say "All done" followed by an email from Shilling to Defraine saying: "There (sic) home."

Later, Shilling sent another email saying "We now officially gangsters", to which Defraine responded: "F****** nice one", the court heard.

Shilling replied: "Hahahaha defo that's sick. Duck and run for cover bitches," followed by: "We are a firm ant we", the court was told.

Defraine allegedly replied: "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, the court heard.

He stated: "Next month I have 30 glocks I will sell," the jury heard.

B replied: "Ok mate let me polish the ak first and then u gonna give sweets with them?"

Shilling allegedly replied: "Yea theres 2 clips with each one".

On August 11, Shilling, Defraine and Rye went to DIY store Homebase to buy bags and tools to bury the weapons until they were needed, Mr Atkinson said.

Each of the 22 Czech assault riles, similar to an AK47, would have fetched up to £4,000 even though they were sold at "shockingly low" prices in Eastern Europe. They had been reactivated and made available for purchase in the Czech or Slovak republics.

The "sought-after" Skorpion machine guns, which were originally developed for use by Czech special forces, would have netted £3,500 apiece.

They are compact, easy to conceal and boast a "truly devastating capability" due to their ability to fire fully automatically, Mr Atkinson said.

Like the rifles, they had been converted so that they could fire again. They are desired by criminals both as "status symbols" and as serious offensive weapons, jurors were told.

Mr Atkinson said: "The prosecution contends that these guns were more than trophies - they were working weapons and they came with a large amount of working ammunition.

"The defendants intended these guns to be used, and to be used with ammunition, for the purpose for which they were designed - as lethal weapons capable of unleashing carnage on a terrifying scale - and they clearly intended to profit from doing so."

He told jurors that they would be shown evidence from CCTV and border security records as well as telephone data.

He said a feature of the case was the use and disposal of telephone numbers by defendants who used different numbers, showing "forensic awareness".

Shilling, from Swanley; Defraine, from Bexleyheath; Smale, from Rochester; and Arthy, who lived with Payne on a houseboat in Cuxton, deny the charges against them.

Payne and Rye, from Swanley, have also admitted conspiracy to supply firearms that would be used by others to endanger life.

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