Police have seized a huge shipment of illegal firearms from a car on the French side of the Channel Tunnel.
British customs officers found 79 viable weapons in the vehicle’s trailer at Coquelles close to the tunnel terminal on Saturday.
The massive haul included a large cache of 4mm and 6mm handguns and a quantity of ammunition, which were hidden in specially-adapted compartments in engine blocks.
Two men were this morning remanded in custody at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court after being charged with firearms smuggling.
Janusz Michek, a Polish national, and Denis Kolencukov, originally from the Czech Republic but living in the UK, were each charged with two firearms offences.
Six other Polish nationals arrested in Coquelles during the operation were released without charge.
The seizure was the result of a joint intelligence-gathering operation by the Metropolitan Police Service and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) that indicated an attempt to smuggle firearms through the Channel Tunnel was due to take place over the weekend.
Police said they had no doubt that a number of the weapons would have ended up in the hands of criminals on the streets of London, “where they would have caused misery and unspeakable damage to the community”.
Graham Gardner, NCA Deputy Director of Investigations, commented: “This joint operation has resulted in a large number of viable firearms being taken out of circulation before they could reach the UK.
“Whilst we are in the early stages of our investigation, I believe these weapons were intended for criminal use in either London or across the UK and it goes without saying the risk they would have posed to the public.
“Our recent threat assessment highlights that handguns are still commonly favoured by some criminal groups in the UK. They may not be the largest firearm, but they are easily concealable and lethal in the hands of anyone prepared to use them.
“Firearms-related crime across the UK poses a significant threat to the public and the NCA are working with partners in the UK and around the world to combat this threat. The involvement of multiple agencies in this operation demonstrates the collective commitment to keeping people safe and maintaining the relative rarity of gun crime in the UK.”
In its fourth annual public analysis of the nature and scale of serious and organised crime in Britain, which was released last week, the NCA noted that handguns and shotguns similar to those seized in the operation remain the most commonly-used type of criminal firearm in the UK.
The report said that the majority of illegal firearms discovered in Britain had not been discharged in a previous crime, suggesting many had been shipped into the country from overseas.