Swanley and Bexleyheath men on trial over £100,000 weapons smuggling

PUBLISHED: 09:53 01 March 2016 | UPDATED: 10:01 01 March 2016

Photo credit should read: National Crime Agency/PA Wire

Photo credit should read: National Crime Agency/PA Wire

A cruiser arrived near Cuxton Marina, near Rochester with a weapons cargo last year

Photo credit should read: National Crime Agency/PA WirePhoto credit should read: National Crime Agency/PA Wire

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, from Swanley, 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, from Bexleyheath, 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.

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” the court heard.

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.”

Shilling, Defraine, 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.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Gravesend Reporter. Click the link in the yellow box below for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad, serving as your advocate and trusted source of local information. Our industry is facing testing times, which is why I’m asking for your support. Every single contribution will help us continue to produce award-winning local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Thank you.

Most Read

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Most Read

Latest from the Gravesend Reporter