An organised crime group who were found to be in possession of guns that were converted to become lethal weapons have been jailed for a total of 98 years following an investigation as part of a crackdown on gun crime by detectives.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Rivington, was a proactive investigation and part of GMP’s aim to tackle the supply and possession of firearms in Greater Manchester. The group, spearheaded by Nathan Godfrey (03/06/91) of Rockley Avenue, Barnsley but originally from Salford, were found to be in possession of Retay firearms – blank firing firearms converted into live-firing lethal guns – with members of the group travelling from across the country to transfer the guns.
Just before 4.30pm on 27 January 2020, the group made a 150-mile trip from Hemel Hempstead when a stolen BMW driven by Sebastian Benjamin (11/08/88) of Long Chaulden, Hemel Hempstead, and a VW Golf driven by Michael McDonagh (29/06/93), of Three Cherry Trees Lane, Hemel Hempstead, with passenger Stuart Nicholson (06/05/89) of Dysart Road, Grantham, pulled up boot-to-boot on Reins Lea Avenue in Oldham and two men got out and exchanged a loaded handgun and put it in the BMW. Armed officers then pursued and stopped the vehicle on Cavendish Street in Asthon-under-Lyne and seized the gun. It was found that the gun was originally a Retay gun which had been converted to into a loaded live-firing handgun with three rounds of ammunition inside, along with eleven rounds of ammunition found in a sock within a carrier bag in the boot.
The exchange took place on Reins Lea Avenue, near the home address of Hedley Brown (05/04/64) of Reins Lea Avenue, Oldham. Just before the vehicles left the scene, Brown was spotted coming out of his home address and approaching the Golf and leaning into the drivers’ side. He then walked away, took out a mobile phone, removed a Latex glove and walked into a nearby pub.
Under an hour later, detectives searched Brown’s home address and found another firearm – the exact same make and model as the one seized from the boot of the BMW – in the address along with 16 rounds of ammunition. Following enquiries, it was found that Brown had been in communication with Godfrey on WhatsApp over a week before the transfer with images of the gun and ammunition.
The manhunt for the OCG continued and McDonagh was arrested at a service station in Queensway in Hemel Hempstead on 18 March 2020 and Nicholson was arrested outside an address in Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 11 April 2020.
The OCG was led by Nathan Godfrey who was the key link between McDonagh’s group and Hedley Brown, organising the exchange and taking significant steps to evade being caught by our officers which included using an unregistered phone, dropping phones after the event, using other defendants to stay at from the transfer and going into hiding for a number of months to evade the police. He was found in a flat in Salford Quays and was in possession of false ID documents in another name and detectives found he had exchanged messages where he’d discussed about escaping the country. Godfrey was found guilty of conspiring to transfer a firearm and sentenced to 14 years on 15 July 2021.
Detectives carried out thorough enquiries on the men’s phones and found that Godfrey would speak to Ryan Catton (13/03/1986), of, Ruston Parva, Driffield, North Yorkshire, who would then speak with Lee Nicholson (05/08/91), of Queens Road, Barnsley, who would in turn speak to his cousin Stuart Nicholson. That link would then go the other way so the message was passed back, and then Godfrey would speak to Brown.
-Nathan Godfrey was found guilty of conspiring to transfer a firearm and jailed for 14 years.
-Ryan Catton was found guilty of conspiracy to transfer a firearm and was jailed for 13 years.
-Lee Nicholson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer a firearm and was jailed for eight years and 3 months.
-Hedley Brown pleaded guilty to transferring a firearm, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of ammunition with intent to endanger life, possession of Class B with intent to supply and possession of class A and was jailed for 13 years 6 months.
-Michael McDonagh pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life and was jailed for seven years and two months today (7 March 2022) at Minshull Street Crown Court.
-Sebastian Benjamin pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition without a certificate and was jailed for five years.
-Stuart Nicholson pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition without a certificate and was jailed for five years.
-Craig Steenson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply a firearm, conspiracy to supply Cocaine and possession of criminal property (cash) and was jailed for 16 years.
-Cody Hurley pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition without a certificate and was jailed for seven years and six months.
-Peter Locker pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm, possession of ammunition without a certificate, possession with intent to supply Cocaine and possession with intent to supply Cannabis and was jailed for eight years three months.
McDonagh was sentenced today (7 March 2022) at Minshull Street Crown Court. All of the others were previously sentenced in July last year at the same court.
Serious Crime Prevention Orders were also placed on Godfrey, Catton, Nicholson, McDonagh and Steenson meaning there are further restrictions when they are released from prison.
Detective Constable Christopher Chinnery, from GMP’s Serious and Organised Crime Group, said: “This was clearly a sophisticated group who were operating across the country and moving guns that were converted into lethal weapons and moving them onto the streets of Greater Manchester.
“Our proactive work and thorough investigation has led to these men being taken off the streets along with dangerous guns that could have led to devastating consequences.
“This result comes after hours of CCTV trawls and thorough mobile phone data researching which showed the clear links between the group and how they communicated with each other to continue with their criminal enterprise.
“We’re committed to taking those involved in high-level crime and firearms off the streets of Greater Manchester and though a lot of work isn’t visible – this is an example of the end result.
“Information from members of the public is always vital and the smallest bit of information could help us significantly or even save a life.
“Anyone who have any information or any suspicions should contact us by reporting it online or speaking to a contact handler on LiveChat at www.gmp.police.uk.
“Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”