12 July 2018
Three men have been convicted for their role in a plot to import 89 lethal firearms into the UK following an investigation by the joint Metropolitan Police and National Crime Agency’s Organised Crime Partnership (OCP).
In early 2017, OCP officers established that an organised crime group were involved in the importation of a large number of illegal weapons from mainland Europe.
They shared information with Border Force officers based at Coquelles, France, who stopped a vehicle before it entered the Channel Tunnel en-route to the UK on 1 July 2017.
Searches of the vehicle’s trailer revealed 79 viable 4mm and 6mm handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, all hidden in specially adapted concealments in engine blocks.
The driver of the vehicle, a Polish courier, had collected the engines from Denis Kolencukov, 24, at the Orlen petrol station in Boleslawiec, Poland the previous day on 30th June, unaware of their lethal contents.
Kolencukov was arrested as he arrived in Dover from Dunkirk on the same day (1 July).
CCTV showed Kolencukov moving two engine blocks into the trailer of a vehicle before the courier drove off. A diary seized from the courier had an entry on 30 June stating ‘engine, Boleslawiec’ and a telephone number for Kolencukov.
Five other diary entries were confirmed to be previous importations of engines conducted by Kolencukov, all of which were believed to contain firearms and ammunition.
The guns were viable Ekol Arda 4mm Flobert and Atak Arma 6mm Flobert revolvers. These are prohibited firearms in the UK but are freely available in countries across Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia.
Enquiries into the importation led officers to an industrial estate in Seaborough, Slough. On 3 July 2017, they observed two men gain entry to a shipping container, remove an item from the unit and drive away in a van. Supported by armed officers from Thames Valley Police, the van was stopped and an additional nine firearms were found in the vehicle.
Steven Spires, 36 and Michael Nicholls, 26, both from Slough were arrested.
One further firearm was recovered following a search of the shipping container, taking the total number of firearms seized to 89.
Kolencukov was charged on the 3rd July with conspiracy to import firearms, conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life or enable another to do so and conspiracy to possess ammunition with intent to endanger life or enable another to do so. He pleaded guilty to all charges in November 2017 and has been remanded in custody since.
On 12 July at Blackfriars Crown Court, Spires was found guilty of possession of firearms and Nicholls was found guilty of possession of firearms and conspiracy to import firearms.
All three will be sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court on 3 August.
DI John Nolan from the Organised Crime Partnership said:
“Kolencukov was the driving force behind the importation a vast number of these extremely dangerous firearms. Not only were they viable weapons, they were packaged up with thousands of rounds of ammunition and I have no doubt that they were being brought into the UK for the sole purpose of causing serious and fatal injuries.
“Although the level of firearm crime in the UK remains one of the lowest in the world, since 2016, these weapons have been seen more frequently in the UK so it’s vital that we work collectively with our partners to take action, across borders, to ensure the risk is minimised.
“Stopping this supply has protected the public and in no doubt prevented potential fatal gang related shootings. We will continue to target organised networks and disrupt their criminal activity.”
Chris Farrimond, NCA Deputy Director of investigations, said:
“Our recent threat assessment highlights that handguns are still the most commonly used firearms in the UK. They are easily concealable, making them the firearm of choice by criminal groups.
“We know there is a strong connection between drug supply and the use of firearms to protect and enable wider criminal assets, so it’s vital we work with our law enforcement partners – both in the UK and overseas – to take action before lethal weapons reach the UK.
The weapons seized in this case can be purchased in the Czech Republic for between €70 and €140, with a tin of 150 rounds of ammunition for €29. They are significantly cheaper and more readily available than other types of weapon.