A woman from Walsall and the boyfriend she used as a courier to import firearms for organised crime groups have been jailed for over 23 years.
A National Crime Agency investigation revealed that Chelsea Addison, 30, paid for Steven Dema, also 30, from Blackpool, to travel to Amsterdam to collect a Zastava assault rifle, a Zoraki 9mm pistol and over 100 rounds of ammunition.
Addison and Dema were sentenced to 11 years, 6 months and 11 years, 9 months’ imprisonment respectively following a hearing at Canterbury Crown Court yesterday (2 December).
The guns and ammunition, in addition to £4,500 in cash, were recovered when Dema was stopped in a hired Mercedes sports car by Border Force officials at the Channel Tunnel terminal at Coquelles on 18 March.
NCA officers believe the duo had already successfully imported firearms for UK-based criminals.
Investigators established that Addison had organised the same trip for Dema on three previous occasions, and the pair were using an encrypted messaging phone app called Wickr in order to conceal their criminal activities.
When questioned, Dema, who claimed he worked as a personal trainer and a bodyguard, told NCA officers he was involved with a dancer called Chelsea Addison who he hadn’t treated very well.
He said in retaliation for his behaviour she had organised for gang members to threaten him, and he had been forced to travel to Amsterdam to collect a suitcase from a car park.
Dema maintained that he did not look inside the suitcase and was going to take it straight to Addison, with whom he was in constant communication during the trip as she was checking on his whereabouts.
NCA officers arrested Addison at her home on 30 April for her controlling role in the importation.
Addison - who said that she worked as a dancer - claimed that Dema sometimes took her phone for days on end, and was making false claims to make her the scapegoat for his criminal activities.
However, DNA from the suitcase and its contents, analysis of phone data, and evidence of the trips to Amsterdam proved their stories were false and they had well-established roles in the importation of firearms.
At his trial, Dema abandoned his initial claim that he had acted under duress, and stated that he had been provided with expense payments of £1,000 by Addison for each trip to Amsterdam.
NCA investigators had also found that when Dema realised he was about to be stopped at Coquelles, he had sent messages to criminal associates involved in the importation.
Addison and Dema had taken city breaks to Europe together, and had discussed flying business class to Jamaica and the Maldives, as well as potential holidays to the Cayman Islands and Italy.
Martin Grace, Branch Commander at the NCA, said:
“This was an attempt to import two lethal guns and enough live ammunition to cause untold damage if used on the streets.
“Illegal firearms are used by organised crime groups to dominate and intimidate communities, to enforce control over criminal markets like the class A drugs trade, and they ruin lives when used to cause death and serious injury.
“Stopping the supply of firearms is a priority for the NCA. Our investigation is not over and we will do everything we can to pursue those involved.”
Officers from the National Firearms Targeting Centre (NFTC), which is based within the NCA and provides the central intelligence picture of illegal firearms for UK law enforcement, supported the investigation.
Rob Hickinbottom, Head of the NFTC, said: “This investigation led to the conviction of these criminals and prevented dangerous weapons from reaching the streets of the UK. The NFTC endeavours to identify and disrupt the trafficking of such firearms in order to protect the public.”
In his sentencing remarks, His Honour Judge James, at Canterbury Crown Court stated: “Both of you seem to have been seduced into criminal activity by greed. It is apparent that you both craved the cash rich lifestyle which often accompanies serious crime.”
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: “The smuggling of firearms through our border is a major threat to the safety and security of the UK. This case is testament to the tireless work of Border Force, who operate 24/7 across our ports and airports to detect and seize dangerous items like these to keep the border secure and communities safe.
“We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners at the NCA to bring offenders like Dema and Addison to justice and to disrupt organised criminality.”