Comment: Op Trident targets another antique gun dealer – with tragic results

The naming of an otherwise anonymous person called “Gary” in the indictment against Gravesend antique gun dealer Ray Mills shines a light onto police tactics against registered firearms dealers (RFDs) lawfully trading antiques.

Evidence heard by the coroner’s court at Mills’ inquest, following his suicide, revealed that the Met Police’s Operation Trident was involved in the sequence of events which led to Mills’ arrest.

Operation Trident – which prefers nowadays to be known as the Trident Gang Crime Command – is the Met Police’s gang-related gun crime unit. Originally formed to tackle black-on-black murders and shootings, it has since expanded its remit to cover all gang-related activity across London.

In 2006 Op Trident targeted Dartford antiques dealer Mick Shepherd, an RFD specialising in antique firearms. Despite the police inviting the media along to their dawn raid on Mr Shepherd’s home, which triggered a wave of coverage likely in the author’s opinion to have been prejudicial to Mr Shepherd’s trial, he was cleared on all 13 counts of unlawful possession of firearms. Mr Shepherd tells his story on his own website here, and the BBC covered it at the time as well.

Historical precedent of a failed prosecution

There are strong similarities between the Shepherd case and the Mills case. Both were registered firearms dealers; as a condition of registration, both would have had to have been of exemplary character, having no criminal convictions or even being associated with criminals in any way.

Both dealers lived and worked in Kent; Mills in Gravesend, Shepherd in Dartford, further up the road. Although Kent has its own county police force, it seems that Op Trident has no qualms about queering its neighbours’ pitch.

Mills was approached by a man who was, presumably, an undercover police officer from Op Trident and who tried to make a test purchase from him. So was Shepherd; the BBC report reveals that the undercover policemen in his case, operating under the names “Liam” and “Tommy”, gained his trust over a number of months. The BBC report, linked earlier in this blog post, says they covertly recorded Shepherd talking about what ammunition could be used in the antique firearms that he sold; a natural matter of technical interest to an acknowledged expert in the field. UK Shooting News’ author has seen social media posts saying that Mills was regarded as highly knowledgeable about antique firearms.

The key difference between the Mills and Shepherd cases, of course, is that one had tragic consequences while the other did not; Ray Mills committed suicide a few days after being released on bail, while Mick Shepherd suffered ten months on remand in HMP Belmarsh before being cleared of all charges.

These two cases are separated by almost a decade. Yet their key features – geographic location, nature of alleged offences, nature of businesses targeted and the police modus operandi – are almost identical.

A wider strategy of targeting antiques dealers?

UKSN’s author does not have enough evidence at his fingertips to accuse the police of entrapping law-abiding antique firearms dealers in the Kent area into committing criminal offences.

However, the recent and ongoing initiative led by the police-controlled National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) to demonise the legal exemption for antique firearms could well be linked to the operation against Mills. His arrest was the subject of a press release by the Met’s PR tentacle, who later – to this journalist, at any rate – denied they had access to the list of charges against Mills, despite being the key agency bringing those same charges. You do not send out a press release unless your intent is to attract media attention and coverage. It is worth noting that by the time your correspondent contacted the Met for a copy of the charges, Mills was already dead.

It’s fairly straightforward to make a series of closely linked assumptions, based on the facts that came to light in the Mills case, of the Op Trident strategy in his and the Shepherd case:

  • find an antiques dealer trading in firearms;
  • gain his confidence over a period of time while secretly recording him in an attempt to find evidence of law-breaking;
  • attempt to buy an item of a suitably ambiguous nature (such as an antique pistol, or an inert round of ammunition);
  • arrest and charge while tipping off the press;
  • hope the ensuing media coverage influences potential jury members towards the police’s favour;
  • loudly trumpet what a good job Op Trident and NABIS did once the defendant is convicted;
  • use that same conviction as “evidence” the antique firearms exemption must be abolished.

The NABIS position is that antique firearms are used in crime by criminal gangs.** They have never put forward any compelling evidence to support this argument, and went as far as to instruct the Home Office – the arm of government to which NABIS is most closely linked – to refuse to answer parliamentary questions about the number of illegal firearms NABIS thought were in circulation within the UK.

Postscript

UKSN’s author does not intend to obtain the most vital piece of information from the Mills case, the exhibit log. This would contain precise details of the three pistols seized from Mills, which would allow an informed person (or one with access to Google, for that matter) to deduce whether he really was selling antique firearms or acting as a gangland armourer.* An application for the log would need to be made under the Criminal Procedure Rules, a process that frankly occupies time and effort. Were this blog paid, I’d have no problems in doing so. This is totally unpaid so I shan’t bother, barring sufficient interest from the public to make it worthwhile.


 

* Such a guessing game absolutely could not be done in relation to an active criminal case. The only reason it can even be contemplated in the Mills case is because it was abandoned after his death.

** UKSN’s author is becoming increasingly concerned that NABIS has become an organisation less focused on providing expert forensic ballistics evidence and instead has mutated into a beast trying to shut down the legitimate trade in antique and sporting firearms for political reasons. However, that is a very in-depth matter for another blog post.

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