Gun-gang merchant of death jailed for 30 years

A "merchant of death" who masterminded a massive gun smuggling operation which led to at least two deaths was jailed for 30 years yesterday.

Michael Sammon, 49, was the head of a gang who converted hundreds of blank-firing guns into deadly weapons at an engineering factory in Ancoats, Manchester, before they were sold on for a sizeable profit.

One of those firearms killed 12-year-old Gorton schoolgirl Kamilah Peniston who was accidentally shot by her teenage brother.

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The alarm flare guns were bought cheaply on open sale in Germany and then brought to the UK where they were modified to fire live ammunition.

Sammon, who was convicted this week of various firearms offences by a jury, was the "ruthless" boss of the "sinister commercial operation", Manchester Crown Court heard.

More than 270 of the weapons were smuggled by ferry and then via post between April 2004 and September 2005.

About half of the firearms were recovered but about 100 remain untraced.

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Sentencing Manchester-born Sammon, Judge Martin Steiger QC said: "Many have been used in shooting incidents and there have been at least two fatalities.

"One hundred of the guns are still in circulation, waiting to do their lethal work to innocent victims."

Five men were sentenced in 2006 for their part in the racket but Sammon – who had been on the run for another criminal matter since 1997 – remained at large until June 2008.

He used two fake passports and changed his appearance several times before he was finally traced to a caravan park in Southsea, Hampshire, where his girlfriend was the manageress.

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Judge Steiger also sentenced the other gang members in 2006 and described them then as "merchants of death".

He said yesterday: "It is clear that Michael Sammon is a man of considerable commercial acumen and experience.

"In my judgment, his personality was forceful and he is a man of considerable intelligence but his talents have been employed for his own selfish ends.

"He is a man who is both ruthless and manipulative. He undoubtedly was the head of this sinister commercial operation. This was as grave an offence involving the conversion of blank-firing weapons as can be imagined."

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Sammon was found guilty of conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to import firearms, conspiracy to manufacture firearms, conspiracy to possess firearms and possessing false passports.

Greater Manchester Police described the racket as one of the biggest gun smuggling operations in Britain, with the weapons used in a number of killings, assaults and armed robberies throughout the country.

Sammon acted as financier and had "grandiose" plans to expand the scheme and set up another factory in Spain.

Buyers from Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Yorkshire and Scotland lined up to buy the guns, which were sold for 500 each – up to 750 with ammunition – after they were purchased in German for just 50 euros (43).

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Henry Grunwald QC, representing Sammon, argued unsuccessfully that there was no evidence to show the defendant was the leader of the gang and that his role had been overstated.

Detective Sergeant Jim Gray, of Greater Manchester Police's Xcalibre organised crime unit, said after the hearing: "It has taken a long time and a lot of hard work to catch up with Sammon, but his past has certainly caught up with him now.

"He was among some of the most wanted criminals in Britain and this gun-smuggling racket which brought the misery of guns to many people could not have operated to the extent it did without him funding it."

Detective Superintendent Geoff Wessell said: "These cases can be incredibly complex but we will not stop until everyone involved in the crime is caught and made to face justice.

"Taking people like Sammon off the streets of Greater Manchester can only make it a safer place to live."