Mark Richards, a 38-year-old man from Godalming, the United Kingdom, was considered as the mastermind of the smuggling ring, who, according to police information, used the dark web to order firearms and ammunition for resale purposes. The gang had two other members, the 38-year-old Martin Beard, and the 39-year-old Aaron Bishop, who took the delivery of the guns from the main suspect.
The trio was arrested in a joint law enforcement operation between the National Crime Agency (NCA), the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF), and the US Postal Inspection Service, who worked together to investigate a darknet group trafficking guns to the United Kingdom.
Local law enforcement authorities managed to execute a warrant at Bishop’s home on October 23, 2013, after the defendant signed a delivery at a postal office in Aldershot on October 4, 2013. Investigators seized cell phones, two laptops, a live shotgun cartridge, and a piece of paper with the details of the “selling site” (possibly the darknet marketplace or forum where the gang ordered the weapons from). When police interrogated Bishop, he told the officers that he thought the parcel contained cannabis, and he claimed that he never owned a gun. The firearm was never recovered.
The investigators performed extensive foreign inquiries, cell site, and telecom analysis, which resulted in all the members of the smuggling ring charged in 2016. The forensic examination of the confiscated cellular devices and computers showed that the trio was in contact with each other and discussed the illicit purchases with each other. According to police information, the defendants referred to the firearms as “washing machines” and joked about “seeing you in five”, which investigators thought they were referring to the potential jail time for owning a Glock pistol. In the course of the investigation, law enforcement authorities quickly determined that Richards was the mastermind of the operation, and they considered him as the main suspect in the case later on.
Bishop later admitted to possessing sexually explicit content of children after investigators of the NCA found a USB stick buried in the suspect’s garden while they were searching the man’s home. After examining the device, law enforcement authorities found 31 category A child abuse images (which is the most serious one), two category B images and 26 category C images. Bishop said he was “a bit of a pedophile”.
“I thought you guys would be round for something else,” Bishop told the investigators.
Bishop’s ex-housemate had reported a delivery of 30 live rounds of 9mm Luger Geco ammunition sent from Germany almost two weeks earlier.
Beard, the third defendant, also admitted to the production of cannabis.
“Richards used Beard and Bishop to accept the guns because he believed they were off law enforcement’s radar. It has been a long wait to put these men before the court and we are very pleased with the jury’s decision. We will continue to target and pursue those supplying illegal guns regardless of how long it takes,” National Crime Agency (NCA) senior investigating officer Dawn Cartwright said in a statement.
When the trio was charged in 2016, it didn’t take much time for Richards to admit to charges, including conspiring to import prohibited Glock handguns and ammunition.
Richards, of Cramhurst Lane in Godalming, was jailed for five years and four months for conspiring to import prohibited Glock handguns and ammunition.
Bishop, of Andover Way in Aldershot, was jailed for four years and 10 months for conspiring to import firearms and a further six months to run concurrently for possessing indecent images of children.
Court documents did not state whether Bishop and Beard admitted to the weapon charges against them, or they only admitted the secondary charges (marijuana production and possessing of indecent images of children).