The parcels seemed innocent enough at first glance.
At a time when online shopping websites have brought the retail store checkout to consumers’ bedrooms, few would suspect that boxes containing DVD players and portable radios, shipped by reputable couriers, could hold the key to an international gun smuggling conspiracy.
But a chance discovery by UK Border Agency officials at East Midlands Airport in July last year led to the unravelling of a plot that involved the importation of a dozen lethal handguns into Yorkshire from America.
Checks of three parcels destined for Bradford revealed that hidden inside the electrical items were small components which, when put together, could make two fully operational 9mm G26 Glock self-loading pistols.
So began a major investigation involving West Yorkshire Police, US law enforcement agencies and the UK’s main firearms intelligence body, the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS), which found firearms parts had been sent in 27 packages from Texas to a Bradford-based crime group.
In all, 12 Glock pistols were shipped over the course of a year, but evidence suggests the gang would not have stopped there. Police believe the ringleaders wanted to buy many more weapons and even had plans to use associates to continue the gun trading if they were caught and sent to prison.
The criminal operation began in September 2009 when one of the conspirators, Mohammed Tariq, agreed to buy a Taser from Texas man Scotdale Liburd.
Liburd, who had advertised the weapon on an American website, assured Tariq by email that the Taser would be labelled as a “shaving razor”, to which the Bradford man replied: “Please activate it for me so it works right away... I will buy more item.”
In March last year, the two men exchanged messages after Tariq asked Liburd to provide a Glock, particularly requesting him to “send it in pieces”.
Tariq and his associates, Atique Arif and Mudasser Iqbal, went on to force others to accept the parcels at their home addresses, threatening repercussions if they failed to comply.
The weapons were sent by Liburd, who himself recruited two women in the US, Christine Pavlock and Yvette Trevino, to buy them from gun outlets in Texas.
Communication between Tariq and Liburd continued as the Glock components made their way across the Atlantic and the Bradford gang made order after order, enquiring about other weapons.
In July 2010, a few days after the UK Border Agency’s discovery, Tariq, Arif and Iqbal were arrested at Manchester Airport as they disembarked a flight from Morocco.
But Tariq and Arif resumed their operation and remained in touch with Liburd while on bail, even after they had been charged and were awaiting trial. Unknown to them, however, Liburd had begun working with the US authorities, which meant their calls were recorded and details passed to West Yorkshire Police.
The investigation found that Tariq, Arif and Iqbal were assisted by other criminals in Bradford, namely Feroz Khan, Akbar Sultan, Mohsin Hussain, Sakawat Shah and Raees Khan. All eight were jailed yesterday.
Two defendants said to have been involved “at the bottom” of the operation – Debbie Jefferson, 34, and her son Jamie, 18, of Church Street, Shipley – were given a suspended sentence and community order respectively.
A jury cleared five others of any involvement. They were Shauna Kilkenny, 19, of Haycliffe Lane, Bradford; her mother Andrea Burton, 33, of the same address; Shazia Hussain, 23, of Pannal Street, Bradford; Michelle Cheung, 19, of Gainsborough Avenue, Leeds; and Damian Waite, 25, whose address cannot be published for legal reasons.