Gang accused of smuggling 'terrifying' arsenal of guns to UK

Court hears alleged gunrunners' leader bragged 'we are now officially gangsters' after the haul was landed at a Kent marina

A gang of gunrunners smuggled more than 30 assault rifles and sub-machine guns capable of “unleashing carnage on a terrifying scale” into Britain on board a pleasure cruiser, a court has heard.

Jurors trying alleged members of the gang heard how its claimed mastermind bragged “we [are] now officially gangsters” after the terrifying arsenal of Eastern European weaponry was landed at a small Kent marina last summer.

But the “evil” shipment of 22 Czech-made assault rifles and nine sub-machine guns, which could have been sold on to drug dealers or hired out to gangsters, was being tracked by officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA), who moved in to make arrests as plans were being made to bury the weapons ahead of an onward sale.

The alleged gang leader, Harry Shilling, 25, is on trial at the Old Bailey accused with three others – Michael Defraine, 30, John Smale, 58, and 42-year-old Jennifer Arthy – of gun smuggling and possessing firearms with intent to endanger life.

Three people – Richard Rye, 24, David Payne, 43, and 30-year-old Christopher Owen – had earlier pleaded guilty to illegally exporting weaponry. The court heard that Mr Shilling, from Swanley, Kent, had come up with the plan and paid for the weaponry, using Defraine, from Bexleyheath, Kent, as his contact on the Continent, and Rye, described as a “loyal lieutenant”.

The cruiser Albernina sailed across the Channel from Boulogne to Cuxton Marina, near Rochester, on 10 August last year with Payne as skipper.

Ms Arthy, who lived with Payne on a houseboat in the marina, is accused with Smale and Owen of helping to buy and prepare the smuggling vessel and unload its cargo.

Duncan Atkinson QC told jurors that the gang had planned to reap huge profits by buying guns, including previously deactivated assault rifles, at “shockingly low” prices in the Czech Republic or Slovakia and selling them on in Britain.

Each of the 22 Czech assault riles, similar to an AK47, would have fetched up to £4,000, while the “sought after” Skorpion machine guns, originally developed for use by Czech special forces, would have netted £3,500 apiece.

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 ammunition.

“The defendants intended these guns 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 intended to profit from doing so.”

After arriving back in Britain on 10 August, Mr Shilling sent an email to Defraine saying “We [are] now officially gangsters”, to which Defraine responded: “F***ing nice one.”

Mr Shilling, Defraine, Smale and Arthy deny the charges against them. Payne and Rye, from Swanley, have also admitted conspiring to supply firearms that would be used by others to endanger life. The trial continues.