Organised crime group members who turned blank-firing guns into live firearms before moving the lethal weapons on have been locked up for a combined 79 years.
Andrew Wheelhouse ran a workshop in a garage at his home in Mansfield Woodhouse where he converted replica pistols into viable firearms and facilitated their onward supply.
The 41-year-old was arrested when armed cops searched his address in Marples Avenue, on 6 July 2021.
During the search they found 15 blank firearms, around 40 blank cartridges, an adapted lathe and drill press which could be used in the process of converting firearms, and metal shavings on and near the tools.
Investigators rumbled a wider criminal enterprise, with group members communicating with each other, and found that blank-firing guns were being turned into lethal live-firing weapons before being moved on to an address in Canver Close, Bilborough.
Thirty-year-old Mitch Butterworth and 29-year-old Amraiz Mahmood were then involved in their onward movement. The pair moved a silencer in and out of a car at the address in April 2021.
Butterworth returned on subsequent nights, placing a gun he’d taken from the address into a car, and later returned to the property with a handgun and other items.
Butterworth was supported by 29-year-old Matthew Galloway who was involved in facilitating the sale of the converted firearms.
Meticulous work on the investigation revealed that brothers Reuben Thomas, 34, and Tyrone Thomas, 29, were part of the wider conspiracy and led on the further storage, movement, and supply of firearms. They were supported by 29-year-old Umar Alam.
Another man, 37-year-old Darren James, was stopped and arrested in Bourne Mews, Netherfield, on 21 April 2021.
Officers recovered a revolver-type antique firearm, component parts and other items of interest from the BMW he was driving.
Further inquiries established James had bought the firearm in January 2021.
The next day, on the night of 22 April 2021, police stopped two Audis in Bramhall Road, Bilborough.
Within one of the vehicles was a case containing a gun, magazine, and rounds.
The occupants – Alam, Mahmood, Butterworth, Galloway, and Tyrone Thomas – were arrested.
A subsequent search of a linked address in Canver Close, Bilborough, and a car parked on the drive, resulted in the seizure of two converted short-barrelled guns and ammunition, another gun, a loaded magazine, and a silencer.
Investigators working on the case also identified that 28-year-old Leutrim Krasniqi and 25-year-old Ergys Zekaj were involved in the conspiracy and had received converted firearms.
After a seven-week trial at Nottingham Crown Court, the jury returned with the following verdicts:
Mitch Butterworth, of Canver Close, Bilborough, was found guilty of conspiring to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life – between 1 February 2021 and 23 April 2021.
Butterworth, who also pleaded guilty to possessing a prohibited weapon for sale or transfer– between 1 February 2021 and 23 April 2021 – was jailed for 12 years and four months when he appeared at Nottingham Crown Court for sentencing yesterday (Tuesday 18 April 2023).
Andrew Wheelhouse, of Marples Avenue, Mansfield Woodhouse, was found guilty of conspiring to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life and of conspiring to possess a prohibited weapon for sale or transfer– between 1 December 2020 and 7 July 2021.
He was locked up for 11 years.
Amraiz Mahmood, of Parkdale Road, Carlton, was found guilty of possessing a prohibited weapon for sale or transfer– between 1 February 2021 and 23 April 2021. He was handed a sentence of six years and eight months.
Matthew Galloway, Reuben Thomas, Tyrone Thomas, Leutrim Krasniqi and Ergys Zekaj were also sentenced having previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life – between 1 February 2021 and 23 April 2021.
Galloway, of Douro Drive, Arnold, was jailed for 11 years.
Tyrone Thomas, of Langdale Road, Bakersfield, was given eight years and three months.
Reuben Thomas, of Manvers Court, Sneinton, was sentenced to seven years and six months.
Zekaj, of London, was given a sentence of six years and 11 months.
Krasniqi, of Gladstone Park Gardens, London, received a six-year sentence.
Umar Alam, of Barley Close, Carlton, admitted a charge of possessing a prohibited weapon for sale or transfer– between 1 February 2021 and 23 April 2021.
He was sentenced to seven years.
Darren James, of Bourne Mews, Netherfield, pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm when prohibited from doing so. He was locked up for two years and three months.
Detective Inspector Mark Adas, of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit, said: “This gang had an entire production line going, from sourcing and converting these blank-firing guns into viable deadly weapons, to selling them on to those who intended to use them.
“Rife with risk of harm throughout the process, it was imperative that we closed down the whole deadly operation.
“Through our extensive investigation we were able to identify the manufacture, storage, onward movement and supply of these firearms and ammunition across Nottingham and into London.
“This was clearly a resourceful and organised group whose criminal activities posed a serious threat, so I’m pleased our proactive work and detailed investigation has now resulted in significant prison sentences.
“I hope these sentences and our thorough work in this case sends a very clear warning to other criminals about the potential consequences of acquiring and trafficking firearms and endangering the public.”