Three members of a South Yorkshire firearms ring have been jailed for over 17 years after police found a record number of weapons during a raid.
When officers searched 32-year-old Robert Webb’s home on South Crescent, East Dene, Rotherham, they found an automatic machine gun, a crossbow, a stun gun, ammunition, air rifles, a BB gun, knives and a silencer.
They also found live ammunition, including machine gun magazines and a lathe which he used to recommission old firearms and produce bullets.
Items of police officer uniforms were also found in his home, including a helmet, baton, handcuffs, radio and body armour.
At the white goods repair firm his family ran on Whitelee Road, Swinton, Rotherham, police found chemicals, and nitro glycerine, which is used in explosives.
Webb insisted he manufactured the nitro glycerine to make shooting targets explode.
He supplied 31-year-old clothes shop worker Natale L’Ala with a deadly Glock handgun and live ammunition.
They were found during a raid at L’Ala’s plush family home on Moorgate Road, Moorgate, last July.
Officers and the National Crime Agency, working on a covert operation, saw Robert Webb’s brother, David Webb, aged 30, deliver the weapon.
The police operation was mounted in Rotherham following a number of shootings in the town.
Police said they were investigating a ’sophisticated firearms ring, which included L’Ala and the Webb brothers.
Robert Webb was jailed for seven and a half years, while David Webb and L’Ala were jailed for five years each.
Superintendent Paul McCurry said: “Webb was an armourer - converting this amount of weapons to bring them back into use goes beyond being a hobby.
“I can’t think of any other occasion when we have seized this amount of weapons in one go.
“I think this is an excellent result - the community should have confidence that South Yorkshire Police and the National Crime Agency are tackling crime at all levels.
“I think the people of South Yorkshire should feel a lot safer as a result of these weapons being off the streets.
“I think the weapons were intended for a number of areas - it’s clear that what we have got is a very, very skilled individual who is capable of recommissioning firearms and making home made ammunition and explosives.
“Clearly this individual probably had the potential, if not was already, supplying firearms not only across South Yorkshire but wider than that.”
Detective Sergeant Mick Hakin, of South Yorkshire Police, said: “In 22 years I have never seen anything like this.
“It is possible Robert Webb does have a fascination with guns but he has gone beyond the realms for me.
“By recommissioning guns so that they can fire again, if these are passed on Webb has no control over what happens to them.”
The ‘armourer’ in a South Yorkshire firearms ring told detectives he had a ‘fascination’ with guns and was a mere collector.
But police believe Robert Webb was linked to an ‘organised crime group’ involved in the supply of drugs and firearms.
Jailing Webb, his brother David, and fellow ring member Natale L’Ala at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday, Judge Simon Lawler QC said the men were involved with some ‘lethal weapons’.
To Robert Webb, Judge Lawler said: “You have, it seems to me, an unhealthy interest in, and fascination for, firearms and explosives. You purchased the handgun and rifle as deactivated weapons and it’s clear you have considerable skill to reactivate them.
“They’re lethal weapons and there was ammunition for them. The really serious aspect of your case is the number of firearms and explosive substances.”
Oliver Thorne, defending him, said: “I don’t suggest for a moment this was a sensible activity but it wasn’t someone making something to injure anybody.
“This is a man with a degree of skill, diligence, application that if applied to some lawful end could have been very productive, for both himself and society.
“He happened upon an interest in things which are unlawful and pursued it much too far.”
The court heard his brother David had suffered a break-down in his relationship with his partner and was staying on his brother’s sofa when the police raid occurred.
Dermot Hughes, for L’Ala, said the clothes shop worker had already suffered the ‘most severe punishment’ as his mother had died of cancer while he was remanded in custody.
Rob Lewin, head of the National Crime Agency’s specialist operations unit, said after the hearing: “By targeting suppliers like the Webb brothers we have stopped their arsenal of weapons and explosives ending up in the hands of other criminals.
“I have no doubt they would have been used to commit further crimes, putting lives at risk.”