From Stardom to Serious Crime
He played alongside some football greats like Michael Owen and Rio Ferdinand and was tipped for greatness himself after his under 18s performance in Malaysia.
This story is about how your choices can transform your life for the worst.
Paul Shepherd has been found guilty for a haul of f•rearms and drug supply.
He was charged after being arrested with a kilo of cocaine after being stopped by police in Leeds last year.
A warrant by the NCA was obtained and that led to a raid where drugs and guns were seized from his home.
This investigation was linked to Operation Venetic.
Venetic is one of the responses by the UK government to the amount of arrests police are making after the encrypted chat app was hacked by French police.
778 arrests were made in one day in June 2020 due to encro messages police intercepted.
Glocks and Sniper Rifle
Paul Shepherd, 43 had played for clubs including Leeds United and Luton Town and scored in UEFA competitions in his teens for Under 18s England team.
He was charged by the NCA with firearms offences after a Glock semi-automatic pistol and a Howa bolt-action rifle, as well as 200 rounds of ammunition were seized from his home on Stainbeck Lane, Leeds, in April last year.
Gerard Wignal 32 was previously jailed for storing the sniper rifle in his mans home.
His dna was found on the rifle when police raided Paul. Shepherd.
The NCA launched an investigation when an encrypted Encro phone and drugs were found at Shepherd’s home.
He had earlier been stopped in his car by officers from West Yorkshire Police, who found a block of cocaine in his vehicle.
The use of Encro phones can be linked to Operation Venetic, UK law enforcement’s response to the take down of encrypted chat platform EncroChat.
Messages on the seized device linked Shepherd to the firearms and triggered further arrests and seizures across West Yorkshire, Merseyside and the North East.
The rifle could be traced back to a commercial burglary and was being looked after by Wignall before it was transported to West Yorkshire.
A further suspect, Carl O’Flaherty, 36, of Leysolme Terrace, Leeds, was arrested in June 2020 and pleaded guilty to multiple drugs and firearms charges in July.
Evidence proved that O’Flaherty helped source the firearm for Shepherd and took eventual payment for it.
A third man from Leeds, Shane Kameka, 40, also pleaded guilty to being involved in supplying firearms.
Kameka acted as a courier and transported the rifle from Merseyside. His sentence will be joined with another hearing where he is due to be sentenced for a separate arson offence.
Investigators believe they were assisted by Clinton Blakey, 36, of Dunstarn Drive, Leeds, who is currently wanted by the NCA after failing to appear at court after he was charged in August.
Today at Leeds Crown Court, Shepherd was found guilty of four charges relating to possessing a firearm and Class A drugs after a three day trial.
Both he and O’Flaherty are accused of further charges around drug supply and are due to be trialled in May 2022, after which, a sentence will decided.
NCA Operations Manager, Nigel Coles, said: “Shepherd went to great lengths to acquire dangerous firearms that were criminally sourced.
“We’re pleased that the evidence presented at court this week has secured a guilty verdict and hope further charges can be proven at a later date.
“The seriousness of gun crime cannot be underestimated.
Had we not intercepted these weapons they would have been used to threaten and intimidate others with the potential loss of life.
Criminals like Shepherd, O’Flaherty and Kameka perpetuate violent crime and are only motivated by financial gain.
Reducing the availability of illegal firearms remains a priority for the NCA.
Paul Shepherd joined Leeds as a trainee professional and signed professional forms on 15th September 1995.
He featured regularly in the Youth team with the occasional Reserve game and November 1995 he was called into the England Under-Eighteen team.
He made his debut for them on 16th November 1995 in a Group Thirteen UEFA European qualifier at Nene Park, Irthlingborough, in a 2-0 win over Latvia, being replaced in the seventy-second minute by Len Piper.
He got his second cap two days later in a 6-2 win over Sweden at Rockingham Road, Kettering, and he got England’s second goal to level the scores at 2-2 in the fifty-third minute before being substituted by Andy Ducros in the seventy-eighth minute.
He picked up his third cap in a 1-1 draw with France in a friendly at Stade Alberto-Corazza in Meaux on 28th February 1996 when he was substituted by Jamie Cassidy.
This was soon followed by two more caps in the Second Round Group Six UEFA competition as England twice beat Scotland 3-0 the first on 19th March 1996 at Fir Park.
His final four caps which brought his tally to nine, came in the Finals of the UEFA competition in France.
He played all three of the Group B games as England drew 0-0 with Spain at Amneville on 23rd July 1996 and two days later drew with Italy at Rombas, before defeating the Republic of Ireland on 27th July 1996 to qualify for the third place play-off.
First Team Call Up
This took place at Stade Leo Lagrange, Besancon, four days later and England beat Belgium 3-2, after extra-time, and Shepherd was replaced by Jamie Cassidy in the ninety-first minute.
Under 20s Championship
It was a surprise when George Graham called him up for the first team on 26th October 1996 at Arsenal for his first and only game for United at senior level.
He became a regular in central defence for the Reserve team and he gained England Youth honours and was part of the 1997 England World Youth Under-Twenty Championship squad in Group F in Malaysia, along with his Leeds teammate Mark Jackson.
He started in the the three Group games which were all won and all played at the Larkin Stadium, Johor Bahru.
He scored the winner after sixty-nine minutes, as England beat Ivory Coast on 18th June 1997 and two days later there was another full game as England defeated the United Arab Emirates 5-0
Three days later he got his third and final cap as England beat Mexico 1-0, and he was replaced with three minutes left on the clock by Jason Crowe.
He missed England’s final game of the tournament when they were beaten 1-2 by Argentina, remaining an unused substitute on the bench as his teammate Mark Jackson played a full game.
However, the competition for places at Elland Road was intense and he was loaned to Ayr United for a month in March 1998, where he scored once in six League appearances.
In February 1999 he was loaned to Tranmere Rovers for a month but only made one substitute appearance.
On 8th September 1999, there was talk that he could be joining Colchester United, after they had watched him in action in a 2-1 reserve team win over Manchester United.
He left Leeds on 1st October 1999 and joined Ayr United where he had been previously on loan.
He scored once in twenty-one League appearances, of which one was from the bench, as well as making five starts and one substitute appearances in the Cup competitions before having a three month summer spell in Iceland with Keflavik IF in the English close season of 2000.
He joined Scunthorpe United on 29th September 2000 on a free transfer.
He only managed one substitute appearance with the Irons before joining Luton Town on 22nd March 2001, again on a free-transfer after also having trials with Crewe Alexandra and Wimbledon.
There were just seven League appearances for Shepherd at Kenilworth Road before he was on the move again, joining Oldham Athletic on a free on 1st October 2001.
He did not make the first team at the Latics and was loaned out to Scarborough on 14th December 2001, scoring twice in ten League appearances before returning to Oldham on 12th March 2002.
Non League Football
He dropped into Non-league football when Conference club Scarborough came back for him for the new season, getting him on a free-transfer on 1st July 2002.
He was a regular with Boro scoring six times in thirty-five League games, one of which was as a substitute.
He also played three other games in the Cups before he left.
He had a trial with Yeovil Town, but, after a first half trial for the Yeovil Reserves at Dorchester Town on 24th July 2003, he was not taken on.
He did, however, join a further Conference club, Leigh RMI, once more on a free, on 7th August 2003.
Again he was a regular making twenty-five starts and four games from the bench and scoring once in the League and played one Cup game before being released on 4th May 2004.
Shepherd, who came up through the ranks at Elland Road, represented his country alongside the likes of Michael Owen and Rio Ferdinand.
Critics believed he looked sure to go on and establish himself in the first team at Leeds.
Then, early in the 1996-97 season, Howard Wilkinson left and was replaced by George Graham. It all went wrong from there.
“When I left school to go into that youth team set-up, everything was going perfectly,” Shepherd says.
“At Leeds then we had some really good players, my age group was the one above the one that won the FA Youth Cup.
“At Under-18 level I got into the England squad.
Everything was going rosy.
I played at Under-18 and Under-20 that included many that smashed the Premier League: Lampard, Owen, Ferdinand, Heskey, it was a ridiculous squad.
“The difference for those guys was that when they went back from the European Championship and World Cup we played in, they were getting the chances and it just wasn’t happening for me.”