Oldham men who converted blank-firing pistols into lethal guns jailed for combined 20 years
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Two men who converted blank-firing pistols into lethal guns and sold them on have been jailed for a combined total of 20 years following an investigation by detectives cracking down on illegally converted guns which are then passed on to criminals across the region.
Operation Lyra was an proactive investigation launched in 2020 by GMP's Serious and Organised Crime Group into two men involved in the conversion of blank firing pistols. The pair, from Oldham, were found to be illegally converting Retay weapons, which are legal semi-automatic blank firing pistols and have a similar appearance to illegal firearms. Retays are available online and the conversion of such weapons is among one of the priorities for detectives both from GMP and across the country.
Modified real bullets recovered from Farm Road address in Oldham
Across the whole operation, a total of 10 converted guns were found and seized by detectives with six at Corey Atkinson's address on Farm Road in Oldham and the rest linked by forensics and intelligence by detectives. Atkinson was found to be illegally converting Retay weapons and this was further evidenced following a DNA hit on a firearm found by a police officer in Wigan on 21 September last year after a member of the public reported 'two suspicious males' in a wooded area.
Box found in wooded area containing gun
We received the report raising concerns about two suspicious males near Edinburgh Close and when officers attended, they noticed an area of disturbed ground with two large logs placed cross over the top and a distinct smell of lubricant around a box wrapped in a black bin liner. The box, wrapped in nappies, had two handguns and 24 rounds of ammunition inside. A proactive investigation was already on-going into 26-year-old Atkinson but the DNA prints found on the box also matched to him.
On 21 October 2020, officers carried out a search at his address in Oldham where they discovered six converted Retay guns, 46 modified bullets and 38 other bullets, sawn off metal tubes and a cutting disc.
Planter where some of the guns were also found
Detectives also later found that Mark McNamara, of Bankfield Drive, Oldham, had arranged and purchased a number of the blank firing Retays on behalf of Atkinson and was also involved in the test firing of weapons. McNamara, 29, was previously jailed for six years on 13 November 2020 for possession of firearms but further discoveries from text message exchanges were made that found a wider conspiracy alongside Atkinson.
A total of five Retay guns were bought by McNamara along with an online order of stainless steel tubes which were used in the conversion. Detectives building the case carried out a raid at McNamara's address on Bankfield Drive on 12 October 2020 where a black pistol was found hidden in the rear garden along with six loose rounds.
Messages from McNamara's girlfriend's phone showed that he'd told her he'd been involved with testing guns at Daisy Nook on 1 October 2020 as part of a sales negotiation.
Across the UK, approximately 130 converted Retays have been recovered since the beginning of the year. A total of 18 of those were seized by GMP across Greater Manchester.
The pair were sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street yesterday (30 November 2021). They both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell/transfer firearms and ammunition and conspiracy to convert imitation firearms into prohibited weapons and Atkinson was sentenced to 12 years and McNamara was sentenced to eight years.
Detective Superintendent Chris Mossop, who led the investigation, said: "Yesterday's significant sentences are a huge step forward in our aim to take those involved in converting legal firearms into deadly weapons we're working relentlessly to really drive a wedge between organised crime groups and the possession, supply and use of weapons in Greater Manchester.
"Atkinson was clearly an illegal converter with the help of McNamara - the pair were working together to turn Retay guns into live firing deadly weapons where they could end up in the hands of criminals and ultimately cost someone's life.
"These two men are two more put behind bars and therefore a gap in the supply chain for criminals. We will not stop pursuing such dangerous and scheming individuals across our region and our focus remains on taking strong action against those in society who brazenly involve themselves in the use, trade and criminal conversion of firearms in Greater Manchester and we will ensure that those we suspect of having such involvement will face prosecution and be taken from our streets.
Alan Bates, GMP's Firearms and Licensing Manager, said: "This case shows that blank firing pistols are being sourced from legitimate and legal dealers and other retailers but they are being illegally converted before being misused by criminals.
"Registered firearms dealers and other retailers are asked to contact us with any unusual transactions or suspicious activity - even the smallest bit of information could be a huge step and ultimately save a life.
"It's illegal to possess most firearms without a licence in the UK and law enforcement across the country are working hard and sharing intelligence to half criminals' ability to acquire, distribute and sell firearms. It's an offence under the Firearms Act to convert an imitation or realistic imitation firearm and it's also an offence to alter the colour of an imitation firearm which are sold with at least 50% of their surface area painted a bright colour. If in doubt, contact a Registered Firearms Dealer, shooting organisation or your local Firearms Licensing Unit.
"The issue around Retay guns is of growing concern not only in our region, but across the country and we're working alongside partners and other law enforcement agencies to crackdown on those creating lethal weapons and putting lives at risk."
GMP has a team of detectives working to combat serious crime and gun converting but information from the public - no matter how big or small - helps us every day with our investigations.
To report any concerns or information about firearms activity, report it to police online at www.gmp.police.uk or via 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.
Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.