An illegal family-run firearms operation which supplied bullets linked to a murder and more than 20 other crimes has been dismantled by police.
Registered firearms certificate holder and father Kevin Bates ran an “undercover” business out of his Birmingham home with the help of son Connor, daughter Trudy and nephew Nathan Bates, Birmingham Crown Court heard.
Wild West convention enthusiast Bates and his son were arrested at their address in North Roundhay, Birmingham, after a police intelligence operation, with officers uncovering what a judge called an “Aladdin’s Cave” of weapons, cartridges and an illicit ammunition production line.
Jailing the family, Judge Francis Laird QC said it was a “sophisticated operation” to supply ammunition to those “with serious criminal intent”.
Forensic testing by the National Ballistic Intelligence Service (Nabis) of the precision tools the 55-year-old used linked his operation to 24 crime scenes including the 2016 murder of Carl Campbell in West Bromwich High Street.
Equipment discovered in makeshift workshops he set up in his garage and utility room had also been used to shorten shotgun barrels and modify ammunition.
Inside a safe in that garage police found two revolvers, a single-shot pistol and a modified Olympic .38 calibre pistol.
Tooling for the manufacture of a 7.62mm round to fit an AK47 assault rifle was also seized, together with 49 live ammunition rounds.
He also kept detailed measurements and instructions on making different calibre bullets in a notebook.
When police searched his son Connor’s car, they found 9mm rounds in sandwich bags, while an ammunition price-list linked to him was found at another house.
He, together with Bates’ daughter, were found to have both purchased equipment needed to make bullets for obsolete calibre weapons, between 2014 and mid-2016.
Police said Bates, who held a firearms certificate allowing him to lawfully keep some rifles and revolvers, abused that position of trust, supplying illegal weaponry to the criminal underworld.
He was able to operate despite routine checks by the authorities of his lawfully-owned items.
Police said that despite an “impeccable” facade, “behind the scenes there was an undercover, covert, clandestine operation to manufacture these illegal items”.
Bates admitted three counts of having a banned firearm and was convicted after trial of having another prohibited weapon.
He was also found guilty of having banned guns for sale or transfer, and conspiring to move prohibited guns and ammunition.
Bates was jailed for 23 years.
Connor, 23, admitted conspiring to supply ammunition and was convicted of five counts of having banned guns, having prohibited weapons for sale or transfer, and conspiring to sell or move banned firearms on.
He was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
Bates’ 26-year-old daughter, of Peplow Road, Birmingham, was convicted after trial of conspiring to sell ammunition, as was Nathan Bates, 30, of Heathway in the city.
Bates’ nephew was jailed for 42 months, while Trudy will not be sentenced until April 6.
A fifth person, Imran Khan, an associate of Connor Bates, also pleaded guilty to supplying ammunition.
The 36-year-old, of Murrell Close, Edgbaston, Birmingham, was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
Detective Superintendent Damian Barrett, of the Regional Organised Crime Unit for the West Midlands, said: “This investigation and prosecution demonstrated Kevin Bates – a registered firearms owner – strayed into the manufacture of illegal weapons and illegal ammunition, supplying those to people for financial benefit, knowing the likelihood was those items would get into the criminal market.”
“Kevin had the technical knowledge and engineering capability to manufacture weapons from obsolete and antique firearms and the ammunition to be used in those.
“His son Connor was involved in the marketing of those items with associates outside the family, selling to criminal networks
“His nephew Nathan and daughter Trudy were involved in purchasing items.
“Imran Khan was the external associate who clearly had knowledge of networks of individuals involved in serious organised crime who were seeking to obtain firearms and ammunition to use.”