Former Leeds United player who went from England teams to EncroChat gangster
A deadly cache of weapons and bullets has been found in the home of a former Leeds United footballer who has entrenched himself in the northern underworld.
A Glock semi-automatic pistol, Howa bolt-action rifle and 200 rounds were discovered when police raided Paul Shepherd’s home after finding cocaine in his car, Liverpool Echo writes.
The gun and drug convictions he received last week marked the end of the road for a gangster who once represented England at youth level.
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Shepherd, who played for his country alongside teenagers who would go on to become Liverpool stars, now faces a lengthy prison sentence after being caught with a gun.
As a promising youngster, Shepherd rose through the ranks at Leeds United, playing three times for England’s U20s and earning a place on the squad for the 1997 World Junior Championships.
The team that traveled to Malaysia for this tournament included figures like Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Danny Murphy.
Shepherd appeared on the scoresheet with Owen when he clinched the winner in a 2-1 group stage victory over Ivory Coast, although England were later eliminated in the round of 16 by Argentina.
He only made one first team appearance for Leeds United, starting at Highbury in a 3-0 loss to Arsenal, before being on loan and moving through the football pyramid via clubs such as Luton and Scunthorpe.
Shepherd hung up his boots in his late twenties and early forties, he was embroiled in gun trading and cocaine exploits.
Shepherd’s criminal enterprise fell apart when West Yorkshire Police officers arrested him while driving in April last year.
Inside his vehicle, they found a block of cocaine, which prompted the force to raid his home on Stainbeck Road in the Chapel Allerton neighborhood of Leeds.
Search teams then discovered the pistol, rifle and ammunition as well as other drugs.
But it was another discovery that led to the National Crime Agency’s appeal – described by some as the British version of the FBI -.
Amidst guns and drugs was a cell phone loaded with EncroChat, the obscure communication platform once beloved by the upper echelons of the European underworld.
The software was so difficult to obtain, so expensive to run, and loaded with so many security features that detectives claim it was used almost exclusively by criminals.
Unfortunately for Shepherd, his arrest came just days after an international operation led by investigators in France and the Netherlands gained access to the system’s servers during one of the country’s biggest intelligence breakthroughs. last decades.
Hacked messages were shared with the NCA, which launched Operation Venetic – a program that sifted through and analyzed recovered data leading to the arrest of hundreds of suspects in gun, drug conspiracies and violence.
The NCA was able to establish that Shepherd was operating under the code name – known by his pseudonym – of QuickResponse.
The posts in QuickResponse’s profile not only linked him to the guns in his house, they offered a lead that paved the way for further arrests and seizures in West Yorkshire, Merseyside and the North East.
The Howa rifle found in Shepherd’s house could be traced to a burglary in Herefordshire – via Merseyside.
There it passed into the hands of Gerard Wignall, who hid it at the Kirkby home where his mother had allowed him to stay after his release from prison.
Shepherd – and a number of associates involved in the gun conspiracy he was convicted of – has yet to be convicted.
After a three-day trial at Leeds Crown Court, the 43-year-old was found guilty of two counts relating to the guns found in his home and two counts relating to drugs which were seized from him.
After the jury returned its verdicts, the NCA made it clear that it believed Shepherd was a serious criminal, saying his actions and those of those around him “perpetuate violent crimes and are motivated only by financial gain”.
Director of Operations Nigel Coles added: “Shepherd went to great lengths to acquire dangerous firearms of criminal origin.
“We are pleased that the evidence presented in court this week has resulted in a guilty verdict and hope that more charges can be proven at a later date.
“The seriousness of gun crimes cannot be underestimated. If we had not intercepted these weapons, they would have been used to threaten and intimidate other people with potential death. “