TWO Hartlepool men have been caged for more than 10 years for trying to retrieve a loaded handgun intended to be used in a gangland-style terror attack on a town man.
Stephen Stead and Nigel Harker were instructed to find the deadly semi-automatic pistol which three days earlier had been taken to Hartlepool by a thug to put the frighteners on businessman Malcolm Mayes.
Police watched as the gunman stopped outside the man’s home at Bishop Cuthbert before something spooked him and he returned to Middlesbrough where he dumped the illegal weapon.
Officers retrieved the gun, which had a bullet loaded in the chamber, and installed cameras which caught Stead and Harker searching through bushes looking for it.
Teesside Crown Court heard how Mr Mayes had been attacked by two balaclava-clad men wielding an iron bar and baseball bat after he had been lured to an address.
One of his attackers shouted to him “keep your mouth shut in Hartlepool” but the exact motive behind the attacks in July last year is not known.
Yesterday, career criminal Harker, 36, was jailed for a total of six and a half years for looking for the gun and also for a “despicable” distraction burglary on an elderly couple who he stole £400 from.
Stead, 40, who also has a long record, spanning 20 years, was jailed for four years.
The court heard how the intimidation against aerial fitter Mr Mayes was co-ordinated by Brian Clarke, 40, from Middlesbrough.
Describing the attack on Mr Mayes after he had been lured to a bogus business appointment in Eston, prosecutor David Brooke said: “He went back to his van whereupon he was attacked by two males wearing balaclavas wielding an iron bar and baseball bat striking his legs.
“He managed to get away from them but dropped his car keys and as he ran away one shouted at him ‘keep your mouth shut in Hartlepool’.
“It appeared to be an attempt to frighten or warn him off. But the threats were not enough and were to be reinforced.”
On the night of July 8, police observed as a motorcyclist rode from Middlesbrough to Mr Mayes address in Hartlepool.
After stopping briefly outside the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons returned to Middlesbrough, and threw the gun in some bushes.
Mr Brooke added: “For some reason the driver got spooked and disposed of the gun.
“Police searched the area whcih was being monitored by the police helicopter and recovered a loaded handgun with nine bullets.
“There is only one reason to take a loaded gun to Hartlepool and that is to use it in some way, at the very least to frighten Mr Mayes.
“Police installed cameras in the spot where the gun was thrown to see if anybody might turn up .
“Sure enough, three days later Harker and Stead were caught searching in the area where the gun had been thrown by the motorcyslist.
“There is no known motive for this attack although there is no evidence it was linked to drugs.”
Lawyers for Stead, of Hart Lane, and Harker, of Middleton Road, both Hartlepool, said they never took possession of the gun and they did not know it was loaded or what it was to be used for.
They admitted conspiracy to possess a prohibited fiorearm and ammunition.
Clarke, of Grosmont Road, Middlesbrough, admitted conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and conspiracy to commit actual bodily harm.
He was jailed for a total of 12 yeras and four months, which included six years and wight months for an unrelated cocaine trafficking conspiracy.
Also involved was Ian Froom, 42, of no fixed abode. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit actual bodily harm and was given two years.
Judge Simon Bourne-Arton said to Clarke: “You are a professional criminal who is prepared to get others to carry out your dirty work.
“This was a loaded firearm and you were getting others to carry it.
“You were using it to cause terror to Mr Mayes.”