Drug dealers who converted guns get 11 years' jail

Two drug dealers who converted 170 blank-firing pistols into lethal weapons in makeshift factories at their homes were each jailed for 11 years yesterday.

Mohammed Shabir, 31, and Shabir Hussain, 29, were found guilty at Birmingham Crown Court of modifying the guns so that they could fire ball bearings. While their operation was running, there was a surge in shootings using converted guns in the West Midlands. Levi Genesis, from Birmingham, was shot dead with a converted gun, but the weapon was not traced to the two men.

The blank-firing weapons were made by the Italian firm Bruni. Shabir and Hussain bought them from field sports shops in the West Midlands, on one occasion purchasing 100 for £3,900. One supplier became suspicious of the large quantity of guns he had sold the men, and tipped off police.

West Midlands Police mounted a surveillance operation and raided the factories, in basements beneath the men's homes, in May last year.

Hussain, from Selly Oak, Birmingham, and Shabir, from Tipton, West Midlands, were convicted of conspiracy to convert firearms after a 15-day trial. They had earlier admitted possession of heroin and cocaine with intent to supply. They were both sentenced to five years for the drugs offence and six years for the firearms conspiracy, to run consecutively.

Judge Derek Stanley said: "In their converted form the pistols were dangerous weapons. They were capable of inflicting serious injuries.

"If one of the ball bearings which had been inserted in the blank cartridge had struck someone in the face it could have been fatal. I cannot conclude that you were converting these weapons in order to pursue crimes connected with drug dealing, but it is certainly the case that drug dealers often end up using weapons of this type.

"Anyone who is familiar with criminal activity in this area of the country knows that offences involving the use of illicit guns have dramatically increased over the past two or three years."

Detective Superintendent John Hesketh, who led the operation, said the discovery of the gun factory was a watershed because it led to one of Bruni's blank firers being recategorised by the Government as a prohibited weapon. Bruni agreed to stop supplying the model to Britain after learning of the abuse of its guns.

Mr Hesketh said: "These converted guns ended up in places like Manchester and Bristol and so far we have managed to recover over 10. I am slightly encouraged by the fact that we are not getting so many shootings being reported where ball bearings are being used. I am absolutely delighted with the verdict."