A London gang of underworld armourers who put what amounted to a gun a day into the hands of criminals was out of action yesterday with the conviction of its remaining three top members.
Hundreds of replica guns, such as the Walther PPK of 007 James Bond fame, were converted to fire bullets and then sold together with ammunition by Guner Salih, 59, under the cover of his Moderne Buckles militaria shop in Bethnal Green, east London. They fetched about ?600 each. "They were supplied to the criminal fraternity - whether to be used in bank robberies or to threaten people, or to kidnap people or simply to shoot them," said Mark Gadsden, prosecuting at the Old Bailey.
Salih, from Barkingside, east London, and two of his accomplices, brothers Paul Meekey, 60, and Andrew, 30, both from Leytonstone, east London, had denied various firearms offences. They are due to be sentenced at the Old Bailey today.
Salih was also supplied by other partners - Stephen Herbert and Gary Beard - who are already serving jail terms.
As Herbert was being led out of the dock after being sentenced to six years' imprisonment, he had thanked Judge David Paget, saying: "That's lovely. Thanks very much - we got away with that." The appeal court later increased his sentence to nine years.
Herbert, 45, and hBeard, 47, who was also sentenced to six years, had pleaded guilty to conspiracies to manufacture prohibited weapons, sell them and cause fear of violence with them.
The men were arrested during Operation Kilvaxter - a lengthy investigation into the supply and distribution of guns in London launched by Operation Trident detectives in 2002.
They discovered a large-scale weapons factory, based at the Meekeys' suburban home. Great care had been taken to disguise an entrance to its loft. So many guns and gun components were found that it took 13 hours to complete the search and for a lorry to take them away.
Another factory was found in Beard's council flat in Sydenham, south London. Its operation had been masterminded at Herbert's home in Bermondsey, south London.
Over 14 months the pair were responsible for putting guns into the hands of criminals at the rate of one a day.
More than 400 of the converted weapons were Walther PPKs. Mr Gadsden demonstrated one in court - recalling James Bond's tussles with fictional villain Goldfinger."It is the gun which M insists he takes with him when he leaves his office because his Beretta jammed and he was shot during his last mission."
After the verdicts, Detective Chief Superintendent John Coles, head of Operation Trident, said: "Without the availability of such weapons, the level of gun crime in London would be far less."
Eli Powell, 43, from Bow and Abdul Motileb, 53, from Chelsea, were also jailed in 2004 for conspiracies to manufacture, sell and transfer firearms. Powell received eight years' imprisonment and Motileb seven years.