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Local News

Criminal gangs turning £100 toy guns into £3,000 killer weapons

today07/04/2021

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More than 500 guns have been reported as stolen across Yorkshire in the past decade as a worrying new firearm trend has emerged.

The startling figures come as police forces are growing increasingly concerned about the growing threat of criminal gangs converting replica handguns sold legally in the UK into lethal weapons in a disturbing home-grown gun threat.

The replicas of real handguns from manufacturers such as Beretta and Glock are legally sold to hobbyists here as they were considered safe, with solid barrels and capable of firing only blanks.

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But now criminals have worked out how to replace the replicas’ solid barrels with hollow ones to turn a £100 toy into a lethal weapon worth up to £3,000 on the streets.

Genuine handguns fetch up to £10,000 in the criminal underworld and are the weapon of choice for top-ranking gangsters. But the National Crime Agency (NCA) said young urban street gangs prefer converted weapons due to their ready availability.

Gun crime in the UK remains low compared with many other countries, but increased 38% between 2014 and 2019, with gangs turning to cheaper converted weapons.

Replicas of real handguns such as Berettas are sold legally with solid barrels - but criminals are hollowing them out to be used as lethal weapons
Replicas of real handguns such as Berettas are sold legally with solid barrels – but criminals are hollowing them out to be used as lethal weapons
(Image: Merseyside Police)

Previously these were made from front-venting blank-firing replicas, which can be more easily converted, and while legal in some parts of Europe are outlawed here.

But in recent months police have seized more weapons converted from the top or side-venting blank firers that are legal here.

Matt Perfect, NCA’s firearms threat lead, told the Mirror: “Since 2020, 175 firearms examined were confirmed as being converted blank firers.

“Recent indications suggest an increasing number of these are top/side-venting models which, prior to conversion, may have been sold lawfully within the UK.”

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Of the 175 seized, 72 appeared to be from one particular brand and of these, 54 were top/side-venting weapons of the type that are legal here.

The number seized has surged in the last six months and a string of conversion “factories” have been raided, the National Crime Agency said – with several uncovered in both Manchester and London, according to Mr Perfect.

A Freedom of Information request from the Mirror to the Home Office revealed that 523 guns were reported as stolen in Yorkshire between 2011 and 2020.

141 were stolen in North Yorkshire and 168 were stolen in West Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, 214 guns were reported as stolen to the South Yorkshire Police – the second-highest figure outside the capital, with only Greater Manchester Police (229) seeing more across the same period.

Among the 35 stolen forearms in South Yorkshire in 2020 were 33 shotguns and two rifles.

A further 56 guns were reported as lost across Yorkshire over the 10-year period.

Nearly 5,000 guns were reported as stolen to police from 2011 to 2020
Nearly 5,000 guns were reported as stolen to police from 2011 to 2020

Across England and Wales, nearly 5,000 firearms have been stolen since 2011 and another 1,500 reported lost.

There are nearly 1.4m shotguns and more than 600,000 other firearms, mostly rifles, held legally in the UK.

The agency has stopped over 500 replicas from entering the UK from Europe since 2018, smuggled in parcels or other shipments.

This crackdown combined with tougher Brexit border controls is believed to have pushed the criminals into working out how to modify the models freely available in the UK, which are harder to convert.

Under the Violent Crime Reduction Act, anyone buying such a replica must prove they need it for legitimate reasons, including for a hobby.

More than half the gun must be a unique colour, usually blue or orange.

Printed weapons are uncommon – the NCA has seized fewer than 10 3D printed weapons in the past year – but it remains wary of the threat.

Written by: Rother Radio News


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