An international operation led by Avon and Somerset Police has successfully prevented three viable firearms and ammunition from ending up on the streets of the UK.
As a result of intelligence received, officers were able to mount an operation to disrupt an organised crime group which had arranged for firearms to be imported into the UK from the USA.
Three brand-new Taurus handguns were legally bought in Atlanta, Georgia, and concealed in bluetooth speakers, before being posted to addresses in Fishponds, Bristol and Hackney, London.
As a result of the UK police operation, officers in Miami were able to intercept a package containing 330 rounds of ammunition, also hidden in a speaker, before it could be exported.
Five men have now been sentenced at Bristol Crown Court for their involvement in the illegal importation of firearms and have been sentenced to a combined total of more than 50 years.
Alcot Flemming, 44, Kenville Hall, 30, Busiso Benjamin, 30, all admitted two counts of conspiring to supply a firearm, while Rhafeek Morson, 29, admitted one count. Nico Lacroix, 23, admitted a charge of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence. Hall also admitted a charge of conspiring to possess ammunition.
In court today, Judge James Patrick said each of the 330 bullets seized “had the capacity to kill or maim” and the weapons and ammunition were “destined for the hands of criminals”.
Det Chief Insp Simon Dewfall said: “This was an organised criminal group working on both sides of the Atlantic to bring illegal firearms into the UK. These firearms, which were brand new and unused, would almost certainly have fallen into the hands of those wishing to cause harm to others.
“The crime group used social media chat groups to co-ordinate their illicit enterprise and evidence showed they spent November 2019 arranging for the firearms to be bought in Atlanta and posted to the UK.
“On Thursday 21 November, a parcel containing a bluetooth speaker was delivered to Kenville Hall’s home address in Fishponds, and signed for by Nico Lacroix, who believed it be a delivery of imported cannabis. The package actually contained a 9mm Taurus self-loading pistol hidden inside the speaker. A second package was delivered to a property in Hackney, London, which also contained two firearms hidden within a speaker – a 9mm Taurus self-loading pistol and a Taurus .40 calibre self-loading pistol. This package was picked up by Hall the following day, who transported them to Bristol where they were to be sold.
“During our investigation we recovered a video on an encrypted social media platform on Hall’s mobile phone in which he’d filmed himself holding the weapons. This a chilling video being used to advertise the weapons for sale to his criminal associates, but they were intercepted by Avon and Somerset police officers and the group members were arrested during a series of armed operations.
“We’d like to thank the National Crime Agency for their invaluable support as well as our colleagues in the USA, who successfully stopped ammunition destined for the UK from leaving Miami on 2 December 2019. This was a prime example of a co-ordinated international policing response to dismantle a well-organised criminal network.
“These men showed absolutely no morality by arranging for these lethal weapons to be imported into the UK and then sold off to the highest bidder. It’s clear they would have fallen into the hands of dangerous offenders and used in the commission of further offences, potentially with tragic consequences.”
Matthew Perfect, Firearms Threat Lead at the National Crime Agency, said: “Tackling gun crime, including the importation of firearms into the UK from overseas is a key priority for the NCA and UK law enforcement as a whole. A coordinated approach, as demonstrated by this exceptional investigation led by Avon and Somerset Police, is key to reducing the threat.
“The NCA’s niche capabilities, through both our National Firearms Targeting Centre and international network of officers, meant we were able to work closely with partners in the US to gather intelligence which allowed this group to be brought to justice.
“Firearms are often trafficked through several jurisdictions so multi-agency co-operation is crucial. Regardless of country of origin, we are committed to continuing these efforts, disrupting gun trafficking networks who pose a threat to the UK.
“Our mission is to protect the public and do so by offering our expertise and capabilities to all law enforcement partners.”
Richard Posner, Senior Crown Advocate for the CPS, said: “This was a complex and challenging case that succeeded thanks to effective cooperation between Avon and Somerset Police and multiple agencies, both in the UK and abroad. Thanks to this excellent work, and the evidence it gathered, the CPS was able to build a convincing case that resulted in five convictions. It brings to an end this dangerous criminal behaviour, which was motivated solely by financial gain with no regard for the fear and potential loss of life such weapons can cause in the wrong hands.”
• Alcot Flemming, 44, of Quarry Lane, Lawrence Weston – sentenced to 10 years and five months in jail.
• Kenville Hall, 30, of Frampton Crescent, Fishponds – sentenced to 17 years and two months in jail.
• Busiso Benjamin, 30, of Gorse Hill, Fishponds – sentenced to 12 years in jail.
• Rhafeek Morson, 29, of Stanway Court, Hackney – sentenced to 11 years and five months in jail.
• Nico Lacroix, 23, of Frampton Crescent, Fishponds – sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.