Updated: Jun 18, 2021
A FORMER Leeds United professional football player, who made the England youth squad, has been convicted after firearms, ammunition and Class A drugs were seized from his home.
Paul Shepherd, 43, from Leeds, (pictured above in his playing days) played for the club as a full back between 1995 and 1999 and also played for Luton Town.
He was a part of the England squad at the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship.
Essex News and Investigations exclusively revealed it was the former player who was charged after his name featured in a list of Encrochat investigation defendants released by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Shepherd was charged by the NCA with firearms offences after a Glock semi-automatic pistol and a Howa bolt-action rifle, as well as 200 rounds of ammunition were seized from his home on Stainbeck Lane, Leeds, in April last year.
The NCA launched an investigation when an encrypted Encro phone and drugs were found at Shepherd’s home.
He had earlier been stopped in his car by officers from West Yorkshire Police, who found a block of cocaine in his vehicle.
An NCA spokesman said: "The use of Encro phones can be linked to Operation Venetic - UK law enforcement’s response to the take down of encrypted comms platform EncroChat.
"Messages on the seized device linked Shepherd (above in police mugshot) to the firearms and triggered further arrests and seizures across West Yorkshire, Merseyside and the North East."
Those arrested included Gerard Wignall, 33, from Merseyside, who was sentenced to 16 months in prison last month after his DNA was found on the rifle at Shepherd’s house.
The rifle could be traced back to a commercial burglary and was being looked after by Wignall before it was transported to West Yorkshire.
A further suspect, Carl O’Flaherty, 36, of Leysolme Terrace, Leeds, was arrested in June 2020 and pleaded guilty to multiple drugs and firearms charges in July.
Evidence proved that O’Flaherty helped source the firearm for Shepherd and took eventual payment for it.
A third man from Leeds, Shane Kameka, 40, also pleaded guilty to being involved in supplying firearms.
Kameka acted as a courier and transported the rifle from Merseyside. His sentence will be joined with another hearing where he is due to be sentenced for a separate arson offence.
Investigators believe they were assisted by Clinton Blakey, 36, of Dunstarn Drive, Leeds, who is currently wanted by the NCA after failing to appear at court after he was charged in August.
An Essex News and Investigations probe last year raised questions over why Blakey was bailed, despite being on licence from prison at the time and charged with a serious offence.
Today at Leeds Crown Court, Shepherd was found guilty of four charges relating to possessing a firearm and Class A drugs after a three day trial.
Both he and O’Flaherty are accused of further charges around drug supply and are due to be trialled in May 2022, after which, a sentence will be decided.
They were remanded in custody ahead of the trial.
NCA Operations Manager, Nigel Coles, said: “Shepherd went to great lengths to acquire dangerous firearms that were criminally sourced.
“We’re pleased that the evidence presented at court this week has secured a guilty verdict and hope further charges can be proven at a later date.
“The seriousness of gun crime cannot be underestimated. Had we not intercepted these weapons they would have been used to threaten and intimidate others with the potential loss of life. Criminals like Shepherd, O’Flaherty and Kameka perpetuate violent crime and are only motivated by financial gain. Reducing the availability of illegal firearms remains a priority for the NCA.
“We are still seeking one other man involved in this investigation.
“Anyone with information on Clinton Blakey’s whereabouts is urged to contact the National Crime Agency on 0370 496 7622 or contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.”
An ongoing crown court preparatory hearing about the Encrochat hack and how it happened is currently underway - more news on this coming soon.