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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 02:12 GMT
How guns get into the hands of crooks
By Chris Summers
BBC News

In November 2006 three men were jailed in connection with one of the biggest gun importation rackets in Britain. But how did it work and what can be done to stop such operations?

Some of the guns which were seized
1 Apr 2005 - A gang tortured and threatened a man at a flat in Toxteth, Liverpool. Five men were later jailed
11 Apr 2005 - Robert Taylor was shot dead by his friend, Norman Blythin, who later committed suicide
9 May 2005 - One of the guns was recovered under the bonnet of a car in Darlington, County Durham. Dominic Noonan jailed
25 Oct 2005 - An armed robbery at a sub-post office in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. The robbers were later jailed
28 Jul 2006 - Brian Walsh murdered his wife at their home in Droylsden, Greater Manchester, and then turned the gun on himself
30 Apr 2007 - Kamilah Peniston, 12, killed when her brother Kasha accidentally fired at her. He was later jailed, along with their mother Natasha, who said she had been looking after the gun

In the spring of 2005 Manchester gangster Desmond "Dessy" Noonan was interviewed for a television documentary and bragged about having "more guns than the police".

A few days later he was shot dead on a street in south Manchester.

Noonan's brother Dominic was arrested in May of that year in possession of a blank-firing gun that had been imported from Germany and then converted into a deadly weapon. He was later jailed.

But the gun was one of a batch of hundreds imported from Germany by a gang who had employed an engineer to convert them.

The sales manager at Cuno Melcher's factory near Cologne still sounds mystified by the logic of the gang who tricked her into selling them hundreds of guns, which they would later convert into lethal weapons.

"It would have been easier to buy real weapons, from Eastern Europe, which you can get for 50 euros. Why did they buy gas weapons and convert them?" asked Julia Nicolai.

The gang were described as "merchants of death" by the judge who sentenced them to lengthy prison terms after a trial in November 2006.

His words were sadly prophetic because in April this year one of the guns cropped up in the hands of teenager Kasha Peniston who accidentally killed his 12-year-old sister Kamilah while playing around with it.

Converted to fire bullets

The gang may not have had the right underworld connections in Germany or Eastern Europe to enable them to buy real guns.

So what they did was buy blank-firing and gas pressure pistols from Cuno Melcher, take them back to Manchester and hand them over to engineer David McCulloch, who ran a dilapidated workshop in the Ancoats district of the city.

(l to r) Kenneth Lloyd, Robert Tyrer and Jamie Tyrer, pics from GMP
Kenneth Lloyd, 55 - jailed for 13 years
Robert Tyrer, 51 - jailed for 19 years
Jamie Tyrer, 36 - jailed for five years

The leader of the gang, Robert Tyrer, from Gorton in Manchester, had first visited a gun shop in Cologne in 2004. He bought 16 guns made by a firm called Umarex and brought them back to England on the ferry.

He made repeated trips to the shop and later contacted Cuno Melcher's factory and persuaded them to sell him guns directly, claiming he was a dealer with a company in France.

Some of these weapons would be posted back to addresses in the Manchester area.

But the operation fell apart in July 2005 when a consignment of guns was mistakenly delivered to a shop in Levenshulme.

100 to convert each gun

The shop owner opened the package and immediately contacted the police.

They launched Operation Carbon and eventually arrested McCulloch, who was being paid 100 for each gun he converted using a system of computerised lathes.

He offered to co-operate and gave evidence that led to the conviction of Tyrer, his brother Jamie, and another man Kenneth Lloyd.

A test firing of one of the guns
Test firing of the guns showed them to be deadly

McCulloch was jailed for six years.

Police believe the gang - who would pay around 80 for each gun - were selling them for around 750 a piece on the streets of Manchester.

Detective Chief Inspector John Lyons, of Greater Manchester Police's Armed Crime Unit, said: "These guns from [Operation] Carbon are still out there. We're recovering them regularly."

They have turned up in the hands of criminals and killers all over the north of England.

Jagdish Patel narrowly avoided being killed by one of the guns when two armed robbers tried to rob his sub-post office in Rochdale in October 2005.

'Sell for profit'

He said: "The shot went inches from my head. I had gun residue specks on my forehead. I only survived because it wasn't very accurate, probably because it had been converted."

Mr Patel said: "It's not surprising that criminals import these guns when they can buy them for 20 or 30 and sell for between 500 and 1,500."

Ms Nicolai said the guns would have cost around 70 euros (48) each - or 120 euros (83) from a gun dealer - but they had gone to "great effort" to convert them into deadly weapons.

Kasha Peniston
Kasha Peniston was jailed for accidentally shooting his sister with one of the guns

She told the BBC News website: "These revolvers are very simple. They are manufactured with a barrel obstruction but if you have the right equipment you can drill that out or add a new barrel. I believe they also added new steel drums because they are made of an alloy and if you put in any real ammunition it will just explode."

Ms Nicolai said they were usually sold to collectors who wanted "lookalike" guns - one of their most popular products is a copy of the World War II-era Luger P08 - or to airgun enthusiasts.

German gun law was tightened up in 2003 - following a massacre at a school in Erfurt - but it is still much easier to buy weapons than in the UK.

The Operation Carbon gang's alleged "paymaster", Michael Sammon, is still wanted by police and is believed to be in Spain or Ireland. Anyone with information about him should contact Greater Manchester Police or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

The gang who set up a gun factory

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