A man and a woman have been sentenced for supplying materials used to create live ammunition and pistols at an illegal gun factory following a National Crime Agency investigation.
Lee Rice, 38, of Eden Grove Road, Byfleet, Surrey, and Marie Brazier, 49, of Irene Avenue, Lancing, West Sussex, were found guilty of conspiracy to sell or transfer prohibited weapons on 3 August after a 12-day trial at Hove Crown Court.
They appeared at Lewes Crown Court today [10 November] where a judge sentenced Rice to eight years imprisonment, and Brazier to six years.
The criminal factory on Diplocks Way, Hailsham, was manufacturing handguns from scratch, and is believed to be the first of its kind discovered by UK law enforcement. It was shut down in 2018 during an NCA operation.
Kyle Wood, 34, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, and Greg Akehurst, 34, of no fixed abode, were responsible for distributing the factory-made firearms to criminals. In May 2019, they were sentenced to a total of 29-and-a-half years in prison.
The craftsman making the guns, Mark Kinman, 64, from Hailsham, East Sussex, pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and manufacturing firearms, but died in prison before he was due to be sentenced.
During the raid of the Hailsham unit, officers located three guns, two of which had been made there, and component parts consistent with the production of an additional 121 pistols.
Law enforcement agencies have since encountered 13 pistols made at the factory in the possession of criminals.
One such weapon, recovered in North London, was found to have Rice's DNA on its internal spring, the jury was told.
Brazier, Rice and Akehurst bought a total of 366 inert rounds from military memorabilia websites over a five-month period in 2018, with further attempts to purchase hundreds more. They also purchased 11 pistol magazines.
The rounds were taken to the factory where they were filled with gunpowder and had a primer added so they could be used as viable ammunition for the manufactured pistols.
Emails sent from Brazier to online militaria retailers showed her order receipts as well as her efforts to acquire more ammunition parts.
In one email, following an order of 50 rounds, she wrote, "do you know anywhere in the UK I could source more from?".
NCA officers arrested Rice and Brazier at their home addresses in February 2019. As Brazier was cautioned, she commented, "I don't know anything about no guns".
Analysis of their phone data uncovered calls between them and those attending the factory while it was operational.
Calls between the group occurred as orders for the ammunition materials were made online, and data further revealed that Rice's phone was in the vicinity of the gun factory in July 2018 - just weeks before it was raided by the NCA.
Andy Noyes, NCA Branch Commander, said: "The demand for guns in the criminal market is ever-present and suppressing their availability is an NCA priority. We are relentless in our pursuit of those responsible for supplying firearms and weapons used in criminal activity.
"Rice and Brazier held key roles that contributed to the production of viable pistols and ammunition at the Hailsham firearms factory. These weapons then made their way into the hands of criminals who used them in acts of serious violence.
"Working with our law enforcement partners both domestically and internationally, we are dismantling organised crime groups manufacturing or trafficking firearms before their dangerous weapons reach the UK streets."
Sarah Jennings, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, said: "Lee Rice and Marie Brazier played a significant role in the production of illegal firearms in the UK. Weapons they helped to manufacture in a factory were sold to organised crime groups and put into the hands of criminals, with devastating and violent consequences.
"Illicit firearms have no place on our streets and their presence poses a great threat to the safety and security of our communities.
Thanks to the NCA's investigative work and collaboration with our prosecution team, the CPS was able to build a strong case resulting in their conviction. I hope this sentencing sends a clear message that those who take part in the production and sale of illegal firearms and ammunition will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
11 November 2023