A “gun for hire” was at the centre of a shooting and drugs conspiracy that has seen five men jailed this week.

The Glock pistol was found at the home of Ian Wharmby in Radcliffe, after having been used by another man for a shooting at a family home.

Manchester Crown Court heard how a woman working at Swan Taxis on Eccles first heard a knocking at the office door on the night of December 8 2019.

Andrew Ford KC, prosecuting, said: “She went to the door and saw a man stood there, he was pointing the barrel of a handgun at her.”

He added: “The man fired she fell backwards.

“She was not hit by the discharge but it was terrifying.”

The Bolton News: A balaclava and gun found by detectivesA balaclava and gun found by detectives (Image: GMP)

Mr Ford told the court that shooting was carried out by Aaron Gray, 26 of no fixed address, Radcliffe, who was then speeded away in a car by another man and that they then dumped the gun in a wheelie bin off nearby Park Road.

Gray carried out another shooting just a few months later, this time on Coniston Avenue, Whitefield, when he shot at a house in the early hours of February 25 2020.

It was this gun that would lead detectives to uncover the conspiracy when they found it wrapped in a sock behind a fridge at the Radcliffe home of 30-year-old Ian Wharmby, of no fixed address, after a raid on April 27, 2020.

The Bolton News: The gun was found behind Wharmby's fridgeThe gun was found behind Wharmby's fridge (Image: GMP)

When Wharmby was detained he was heard to shout “tell Dom, I’ve been arrested” to someone walking by outside.

A ballistics analysis connected the gun to the Coniston Avenue shooting and found that Wharmby had in turn taken it from the home of 29-year-old Dominic Hughes, on Glover Court, Leigh, the “Dom” referred to by Wharmby on his arrest.

Mr Ford explained that Hughes was the gun’s “custodian”, in effect using it as a “gun for hire”, while Wharmby was a “runner” bringing it to and from its destination, while Gray himself was the shooter.

The Bolton News: Wharmby seen carrying the gunWharmby seen carrying the gun (Image: GMP)

Gray was arrested on March 31 that year while Hughes was arrested on May 5.

The same gun used in the Coniston Avenue shooting was also discovered to have involved two other men.

Detectives discovered that Craig Walker, 40, of Warrington Road, Wigan, had used the messaging system Enchrochat, which is often used by criminals for illicit dealings, to try and find a gun for Jacob Smith, 22, of no fixed address.

Smith, the court heard, was introduced to Wharmby by Walker and referred to himself as “the kid who wants the thing".

“The thing” was the self-loading Glock pistol held by Wharmby, but Smith never had the chance to use it when Wharmby was arrested before any transaction could take place.

The Bolton News: The Glock pistol was used as a gun for hireThe Glock pistol was used as a gun for hire (Image: GMP)

Walker and Smith were both arrested shortly afterwards.

But the investigation also found that Wharmby and Hughes had been involved in the supply of hard drugs, when they found cocaine and cannabis stashed at Wharmby’s house the day he was arrested.

The detectives found that Wharmby passed this drugs enterprise on to Hughes after being arrested.

The Bolton News: Dominic HughesDominic Hughes (Image: GMP)

Hughes and Wharmby both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, Hughes on the first day of his trial and Wharmby at the first possible opportunity.

They both also pleaded guilty to possession of both Class A and Class B drugs with intent to supply.

The Bolton News: Ian WharmbyIan Wharmby (Image: GMP)

Gray was found guilty of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life and possessing ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Walker and Smith were both convicted of conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life after a trail that finished earlier this year.

All five of the men have been on remand in prison ever since and have now finally been brought back to court for sentencing.

The Bolton News: Aaron GrayAaron Gray (Image: GMP)

David James, defending Hughes, pointed out that his client had already been in prison for a significant time by this point during an extremely difficult “Covid regime.”

William England, defending Gray, argued reminded the court that no one had actually been injured or killed in the shootings, while Anthony Howard, defending Wharmby added that his client had not been involved directly in any of the shooting incidents.

Richard Simons, defending Walker, told the court he had no relevant previous convictions, while Kieran Galvin, defending Smith, reminded the judge of his client’s young age.

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But the Honorary Recorder of Manchester Judge Nicholas Dean KC reminded them of just how serious the five men’s crimes had been.

He said: “There is other offending to consider, but the case revolves around the shooting at Swan Taxis in Eccles and Coniston Avenue, in Whitefield.”

The Bolton News: Craig WalkerCraig Walker (Image: GMP)

He added: “It was a group enterprise, it can’t be said to be sophisticated but it was part and parcel of group or gang-like activity.”

Judge Dean sentenced Hughes to 18 years in prison and Gray the shooter to 14 years.

Wharmby, who had kept the gun at his home, was sent to prison for three years while Smith was sentenced to six and a half years and Walker to six years.

The Bolton News: Jacob SmithJacob Smith (Image: GMP)

Detective Inspector Rick Castley, of Greater Manchester Police's Serious Organised Crime Group, said: “This is another example of a successful operation that has taken out offenders involved in serious and organised crime.

"This group have been terrorising the community who have been stuck in the middle of their petty disputes, and it has resulted in innocent members of the public being seriously harmed just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I know that at the time of us conducting this operation there may have been concern in the local community, but I hope the action we took back then, and todays convictions, shows GMP’s commitment to ensuring dangerous individuals are taken out of society and put behind bars for a long time.

“This investigation was extensive, and it was meticulous.

"My team spent hours trawling through CCTV, thousands of text messages, taking witness accounts and combing through forensic evidence.

“We understand our fight against organised crime is far from over but let this be a warning that we will vigorously pursue offenders involved in this type of crime in order to make our communities safer.”