Tragic model Katy French's close socialite friend gets 21-year jail term for gun running
AN Irish socialite and high-end car dealer who smuggled firearms into the UK has been jailed for 21 years.
Dubliner Lee Cullen (46) - who was a close pal of late model Katy French - was part of a four-man gang. All four were jailed for a total of 74 years by an English court.
Cullen and his associates - Laurence McCarthy (44), Paul Firth (44) and Sean Edwards (36) - were arrested after an operation involving specialist police units.
Warwick Crown Court heard that all four played a "key part" in importing replica firearms before converting them to fire live rounds.
On March 12 last year, McCarthy ordered eight Bruni Gap 9mm blank-firing Glock replica pistols that would later be converted to discharge live ammunition.
As part of the ongoing investigation, armed British police swooped on a Vauxhall Insignia car carrying Cullen, Edwards and Firth in Birmingham, on June 23 last year.
Police found two converted firearms and 25 rounds of ammunition in the boot.
McCarthy was arrested in a follow-up operation.
Cullen was found guilty at Warwick Crown Court of conspiracy to supply prohibited firearms and conspiracy to sell ammunition without being registered under the Firearms Act. He was jailed for 21 years and eight months.
The other three gang members pleaded guilty to the same offences.
McCarthy was jailed for 20 years and eight months, Firth for 19 years and Edwards for 14 years and three months.
Cullen fled to the UK several years ago after coming under increasing scrutiny from gardai, in particular the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).
Investigators believe he associated with crime gangs in Ireland and the UK and was responsible for laundering ill-gotten gains as well as acting as a "fixer".
A source told the Herald: "He was centrally connected to several gangs.
"He had very close ties to the Kinahan cartel and was close to Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh in the midlands."
Kavanagh (50) is considered to be one of the cartel's most senior members and runs a large operation in the UK.
Cullen was previously a high- end car dealer in Dublin. In 2013 he received a two-year jail term for evading Vehicle Registration Tax.
He was a close pal of Katy French, the model who died of a cocaine-induced heart attack in 2007.
She was driving a Land Rover that had been loaned to her by Cullen at the time of her death.
Stephen Davies, of the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Prosecutors working with specialist police units successfully brought to justice this criminal gang who imported imitation firearms from the continent to convert to live firing handguns and to sell on within the UK.
"When arrested, Laurence McCarthy had claimed that the replica guns had been purchased for a 'gangster and moll' party.
"In fact, they were purchased to be reactivated and later sold to criminals.
"These four men all played a key part in this purchasing and converting of the firearms and, therefore, they all have to take responsibility for the illegal actions which could have put innocent lives at risk.
"The Crown Prosecution Service and our colleagues in the criminal justice system are working together to not only identify but robustly prosecute those who use and carry firearms as well as those who produce and supply such deadly weapons."