One man has been given a life sentence and another jailed for 20 years after they bought, coverted and sold handguns to gangs in Luton, Bedford and Birmingham.
Mathew Harwozinski, 29, and Ricky Garner, 48, both of Abbey Fields in Elstow, pleaded guilty for their roles in importing and modifying dozens of weapons. These firearms have been linked to two gangland shootings in Luton, as well as numerous others across the UK.
Between May 2017 and January 2018, Harwozinski, under a false name, bought dozens of blank firing handguns and more than 1,000 rounds of blank ammunition from the Czech Republic.
The weapons were then converted by Garner, an engineer at a metal fabricator factory, so they could fire modified live ammunition.
These weapons and the ammunition were then supplied to the criminal underworld. Estimates suggest the weapons and ammunition were sold for between £1,500 and £2,000. Their buyers would have had to return to Garner and Harwozinski for their unique ammunition.
The duo sold weapons to at least one gang based in Luton, while their guns and ammunition have also been recovered in London and the West Midlands.
The blank firearms are legal in the Czech Republic, but their possession is illegal in the UK given the way they work.
Ballistics testing found the converted weapons were more than capable of firing lethal shots. A number of the weapons were fully automatic and able to fire around eight bullets per second.
The converted weapons have been discharged in public on a number of occasions, endangering the life of innocent people, and on at least one occasion their use caused injury in circumstances amounting to attempted murder.
At Luton Crown Court today (Friday) Garner was sentenced to 20 years, while Harwozinski received a life sentence.
The weapons were used in at least three shootings in Luton last year, including two on the same night last December, during which bullets caused substantial damage to the McDonald’s in Marsh Road and a number of vehicles.
Since the pair were arrested in January, there have been further incidents in the Metropolitan Police area and in Bedfordshire that have involved pistols and ammunition supplied by Garner and Harwozinski. These have come to light though forensic comparisons.
The operation was led by Bedfordshire Police’s Serious & Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), assisted by the Metropolitan Police (Op Trident), National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).
Inspector Justin Dipper said: “A combination of good intelligence, proactive policing and sheer persistence on behalf of our officers has taken dozens of lethal weapons off the streets and stopped any further supply into Bedfordshire.
“The fact these weapons have been repeatedly fired in public shows the huge danger Garner and Harwozinski placed innocent people in, and we are glad the court has responded with such strong sentences for those involved in organised crime.
“Through this investigation, SOCU has demonstrated its ability to work with, and lead, other agencies in pursuit of dangerous criminals. The fact Bedfordshire’s SOCU has been able to mount such a proactive and wide ranging operation is testament to the dedication and talent we have in the team.”
Garner pleaded guilty to three offences, namely converting the weapons, manufacturing ammunition and possessing ammunition without a firearms certificate.
Harwozinski pleaded guilty to four offences, specifically to importing and converting firearms, manufacturing ammunition and possessing firearms with intent to enable others to endanger life.
How they were caught
Intelligence linked Garner to some of the defendants and the weapons used in the Bedford gang shootings in July 2016, for which the total sentence for those involved has now reached 185 years imprisonment.
The force’s Operation Kruse investigation into these shootings then linked Garner and Harwozinski.
Slowly, Bedfordshire Police officers and partners from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) built up a network of their associates, which included gang members based in Luton and London as well as criminals linked to drugs supply in Bedford.
In January a number of converted weapons and rounds of manufactured ammunition were found at addresses in Bedford, with Harwozinski observed at one of these properties in Offa Road.
Scene of crime officers (SOCO) identified this unique ammunition from the previous incidents in Luton. All the recovered firearms were the same models with the same type of adaption and with the same unique ammunition.
Surveillance of Harwozinski also showed him receive a number of large parcels at an address in Bedford. Recovery of the delivery boxes showed he had used an alias when he had the packages delivered from the Czech Republic.
On 25 January, when Garner and Harwozinski were seen heading to a DIY store together and bought a soldering iron, officers swooped in hours later to conduct warrants at two addresses in Abbey Fields.
They found a series of guns, ammunition, drugs and other weapons there and at other addresses in Bedford linked to Harwozinski.
Officers linked Harwozinski to the purchase of the blank firing handguns through an email address on his iPad. He spent more than £4,700 on purchasing the handguns and ammunition.
Officers also found a metal work factory in Garner’s garden shed, including a lathe and other equipment capable of converting firearms and producing ammunition.
There was a target inside the shed, while barrels, gunpowder and blank rounds were found at other addresses linked to Garner.