Search

Smuggler who bragged ‘we now officially gangsters’, after Britain’s biggest gun smuggling operation, jailed for 35 years

PUBLISHED: 14:12 03 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:31 03 June 2016

Some of the weapons discovered on board

Some of the weapons discovered on board

Archant

Harry Shilling from Swanley was jailed today

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

The mastermind behind Britain’s biggest known gun smuggling operation has been sentenced to 35 years for shipping £100,000 of weapons from the same source used in the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.

Swanley’s 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.

Michael DefraineMichael Defraine

The 26-year-old and Bexleyheath’s 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.

Shilling was handed a sentence of 30 years in jail, plus five years on extended licence, while Defraine was given 27 years in jail, plus five years on extended licence.

Harry ShillingHarry Shilling

Judge Michael Topolski QC told Shilling: “I’m entirely satisfied the truth is you were the man in charge of this carefully planned, well-funded and sophisticated organisation.”

The “dangerous young man” had been motivated by a desire to “maintain, protect and expand” his drug business, the judge said.

The rest of the gang - skipper David Payne, 43, Richard Rye, 24, and Christopher Owen, 30, who had already pleaded guilty - also received jail sentences for their role in the “sophisticated” enterprise.

Payne was handed 19 years and six months, including five years on extended licence; Rye was sentenced to 19 years and three months, including five years on extended licence; and Owen, who was caught with two bullets in his pocket, received five years and four months in prison for his lesser role.

The judge told them: “It has been said that it cannot be exaggerated that guns kill and maim, terrorise and intimidate and that’s why criminals want them.

“That is why they use them and that’s why they organise their importation, supply and distribution.”

He said the operation could have caused carnage on a “truly horrifying scale”, adding: “The firearms were genuine, fully automatic and in good condition. They were of high calibre. Some of the weapons were loaded and ready to be fired.”

The Albernina vessel arrived with the “evil” cargo near Cuxton Marina, outside Rochester in Kent, on August 10 last year.

But the National Crime Agency 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 had 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, complete with ammunition and two silencers, into the country on board the Albernina.

On arriving back in the UK, Shilling quoted Notorious B.I.G lyrics when he emailed: “We now officially gangsters”.

Shilling emailed back: “Hahahaha defo that’s sick. Duck and run for cover b******. 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 and bragged he was a “proper cartel”.

The ringleaders had used mobile phones with encrypted software PGP - Pretty Good Privacy - and referred to guns as “toys” and bullets as “sweets” in an attempt to evade authorities.

But 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.

The 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.

Shilling and Defraine had denied the charges.

Rye, also from Swanley, Payne who lived on a houseboat in Cuxton, and Owen, from Rochester, had pleaded guilty to their part in the smuggling conspiracy.

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

Afterwards, Rob Lewin, NCA head of specialist operations, said: “The weapons seized here were hugely powerful and the evidence showed that Shilling and his gang would have had no hesitation in using them.

“They thought having this kind of firepower made them untouchable, but we were determined to stay one step ahead of them all the way.”

Jonathan Ramsay, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was a sophisticated importation of weapons with a lethal capacity. The CPS built a strong case focused both on the gang’s plot to import weapons, and on the intentions for their deadly future use.

“Offenders importing or possessing guns do so with a complete disregard to the cost of human life if those guns are used.”

Latest Bexley news

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Kent travel to Birmingham for their Specsavers County Championship Division Two title showdown with Warwickshire starting on Monday.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

We talk to hundreds of local business owners every day; we hear their concerns, understand their challenges and share in their successes.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Kent’s Joe Denly and Rory Burns of Surrey earned earned their first Test call-ups for England’s forthcoming tour of Sri Lanka on Friday, but national selector Ed Smith insists there is no pressure to become “the new Alastair Cook”.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The 80-year-old, who has scored more than 300 games, earned praise from England cricketer Stuart Broad

Thursday, September 20, 2018

County Championship Division Two: Glamorgan (186 & 78) lost by an innings and 172 runs to Kent (436)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Kent centurion Zak Crawley admitted it felt good to finally score his maiden century for the county on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

At the age of 15, notorious Bexley criminal Kenneth Noye left Bexleyheath School in 1962.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Kent opener Zak Crawley hit a fluent maiden first-class century to bolster his side’s promotion hopes and leave the Hop County in total command of their Specsavers County Championship clash with Division Two basement side Glamorgan.

Most read news

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Bexley Times e-edition today
E-edition

Newsletter Sign Up

Bexley Times twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Show Job Lists

Family Notices 24