Cops have thwarted a gang attempting to flood British streets with guns smuggled in from the US in bluetooth speakers.
A daring undercover operation led detectives to an organised crime group who were bringing deadly Taurus handguns into the UK for sale to the highest bidder.
The gang advertised the weapons for sale on encrypted social media messaging platforms.
The guns were bought in Atlanta, Georgia, and concealed in foam inside bluetooth speakers, before being posted to addresses in Fishponds, Bristol and Hackney, London.
A brave undercover cop, known only as Jimmy, infiltrated the crooks in Bristol over an 18 month period in a mission known as Operation Billboard.
He managed to convince them to sell him three handguns, one 40 calibre self-loading handgun for £4,000 and two 9mm self-loading handguns for £7,000, before they could make it onto the blackmarket.
Both guns were to be supplied with devastating hollow-point ammunition which shreds the victim apart inside.
It is a sickening reality all too familiar for the Bains family from Northampton.
In 2018 their son Joshua, 28, was gunned down on a quiet British street by county lines drug dealers using a Taurus handgun loaded with hollow-point ammunition.
At the time his parents could have had no idea he was killed by a hi-tech gun smuggled in from the USA.
It is the kind of weaponry used on a battlefield, not a sleepy shire town, but there is increasing evidence such guns are making it across the pond and onto British streets.
The National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) has estimated that 782 American guns have been discovered by British police since 2017.
And earlier this year the National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that gun seizures had almost doubled in the last twelve months and firearms offences have risen by 38 per cent since 2015.
The reality of this is all too familiar for Josh’s dad Dave Bains, 66, who is still coming to terms with his son’s death.
He told The Mirror: “As far as I’m concerned the man who imported the gun pulled the trigger. Guns are used for one reason and one reason only, to kill.
“You can fight someone with a knife but you can’t escape a bullet going at 700mph. Hollow-point ammo is horrific, only there for devastation.”
Dave believes the only long term answer to the problem is targeting the drugs that gangs trade in but also by cutting off the supply lines in the USA.
He said: “Because of what happened to our son we learned how guns were being smuggled in from the US and Europe.
“The Americans live in a bubble when it comes to guns, they don’t understand the rest of the world and the problems their weapons cause when they get into the wrong hands.
“But my argument is very simple, I think if you stop the drugs, you stop the guns however you have to go after the people who are buying the drugs in the first place and I mean the wealthy people with money who do cocaine on the weekend and don’t think about where it came from.
“Target the people taking the white powder, test every person going into work on a regular basis, builders are tested, machine operators are tested – why not the white collar workers?
“I tell you what if you hit them the demand will disappear overnight. Just look at the Conservative Government, how many of them have admitted taking cocaine?
“Michael Gove admitted it but did someone like him ever think while he was putting that powder up his nose how many people down the line all the way back to Mexico have died so he could use it?”
Kitchen fitter Dave and his wife Claire now do all they can to take care of Josh’s young son by trying to provide him with the father figure who was so brutally snatched away from him.
But they also want to warn other parents about the perils of gangs and how they can entice their children.
Dave said: “My son opened his eyes to me when he was born. We were very close, we did a lot of things together, he had a kindred soul.
“He was kind hearted, always doing people favours and it was by doing some idiot a favour that he got caught up in the situation that killed him.
“We couldn’t believe something like that could happen in a shire town. I have watched the whole video of my son being murdered on CCTV.
“My son was shot through one lung and the bullet went through his pulmonary artery which basically pumps blood round your body before then going through his other lung and exiting out of his shoulder.
“That’s a holo-point bullet, that is the damage they can do.”
Step-mum Claire believes the US must do more to tighten gun control in the first place.
She explained: “The Americans need to tighten up the sale of guns there, it is far too easy to buy a weapon at something like a gun fair.
“They have far too many guns there and now they’re getting out and getting on to our streets.
“It is a devastating crime to kill someone with a gun, you think about it every single day, when you go to bed and when you get up in the morning and I worry for the future.
“As more and more people lose their jobs because of coronavirus there is going to be more drugs and more gangs taking advantage of that and it will be made even worse with guns this like these for them to get their hands on.
“It’s horrific this weaponry is turning up on our streets. Guns like this must not become part of our everyday life.”
It was heard during the gangs trial at Bristol crown court that members boasted in prison they used courier companies on either side of the Atlantic who allowed the packages to bypass security although this was never proved.
It is also believed they could have had ten handguns for sale but only three were ever recovered during the undercover op.
Five men were arrested as part of the conspiracy and were sentenced on Monday at Bristol Crown court.
Speaking afterwards Detective Chief Inspector Simon Dewfall, of Avon and Somerset police, told The Mirror: “This gang were motivated purely and utterly by mind dumbing greed.
“They didn’t have a care in the world of the impact and devastation those firearms would cause on the streets of Britain.
“Who knows where the guns could have ended up if they were distributed into criminal hands. By stopping this we have certainly stopped further firearms coming into the UK.
“It is horrendous what the hollow-point ammunition does.
“It is designed for use in theatre so if I was in combat it is designed to expand on impact inside the intended target so the damage that would cause is horrific and I think the fact they were trying to ship that into the UK is very telling.
“It is designed for one thing and one thing only – and that is to kill.
“So to get that grade of ammunition into that kind of weapon on the streets of the UK would have been terrible.”
Matthew Perfect, Firearms Threat Lead at the National Crime Agency, told The Mirror: “Firearms offences account for less than one per cent of recorded crime however we do recognise there has been an upward trend in discharges since 2014.
“The best way to reverse that trend is by suppressing the availability of firearms.
“Clearly there was a good understanding in this group, they knew they had a capability to get firearms into the UK.
“I am absolutely sure if they hadn’t been disrupted this early they would have gone on to sell more firearms into the UK marketplace.”
Yesterday Alcot Flemming, 44, from Weston, Somerset was sentenced to 10 years and five months in jail.
Kenville Hall, 30, from Fishponds, Bristol, was sentenced to 17 years and two months in jail.
Busiso Benjamin, 30, from Fishponds, Bristol, was sentenced to 12 years in jail.
Rhafeek Morson, 29, from Hackney, London, was sentenced to 11 years and five months in jail.
Nico Lacroix, 23, from Fishponds, Bristol, admitted a charge of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence. He was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.