A man who used an encrypted messaging app and cryptocurrency to buy a deadly Glock pistol has been jailed for more than six years.
Jack Whittle, 25, used Bitcoin to purchase a Glock 17 pistol and 150 rounds of ammunition for the firearm over the Internet.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard how he asked a mystery seller based at an unknown location in America to send it to his home in Buckhaven, Fife.
Whittle contacted the seller using Telegram – an app once described by Home Secretary Sajid Javid as providing a “mouthpiece” for terrorists.
However the court heard how Whittle’s plans to become a repeat purchaser from the mysterious vendor were thwarted.
The court heard this was due to the efforts of a US government special agent who intercepted the gun in Buffalo, New York,.
Judge Lady Poole heard how the American authorities tipped off the National Crime Agency in the UK who created a “placebo package” to be sent to Whittle.
Plain clothed armed police officers swooped on Whittle and took him into custody hours after the package was delivered on February 2 this year.
Police seized Whittle’s phone and found incriminating messages between Whittle and the seller of the weapon.
On Wednesday, judge Lady Poole heard defence advocate Janice Green say that her client bought the weapon due to the Covid-19 lockdown putting a strain on his mental health.
Ms Green asked Lady Poole not to impose an automatic five-year term passed by Parliament for people who illegally possess firearms.
But Lady Poole believed that there were no exceptional circumstances in Whittle’s case and jailed him for five years for possessing the Glock.
She also imposed a further 16 months for drug dealing. The court had earlier heard how police found cocaine and ecstasy with a street value of more than £5000
Passing sentence, Lady Poole said: “I have taken the submissions made by your counsel today into account.
“But you deliberately bought a pistol and ammunition and arranged the items to be sent to your home.
“The distribution and possession of firearms are controlled by these courts as weapons of this nature can cause injury and death.
“Drugs can wreck lives and blight the communities of where they take hold – drugs can cause misery and deprivation.
“Given the nature of the convictions, no other sentence other than custody is appropriate.”
The story emerged after Whittle, of Eagle Road, Buckhaven, pleaded guilty to breaching firearms laws and being involved in the supply of cocaine.
During proceedings then, prosecutor Bill McVicar told the court of how Whittle started communicating with the seller on December 23, 2020.
Mr McVicar said the police scrutinised messages between the accused and the seller after the arrest. They found he had been using Telegram.
In 2018, the then Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about the app – which was briefly removed by Apple once from its App Store – being used by terrorists. She called on the firm responsible for Telegram to provide the authorities with the ability to read encrypted messages sent over it.
She said: “We need cross-industry responses because smaller platforms can quickly become home to criminals and terrorists.
“We have seen that happen with Telegram. And we need to see more cooperation from smaller platforms like this.”
Speaking about the messages sent by Whittle, Mr McVicar said that he told the seller that “money is not an issue” when it came to buying the pistol.
Mr McVicar said that on January 28 2021, a US Federal Agency Special Agent was on duty in Buffalo New York when he intercepted the gun and ammo.
The US authorities passed on the information to the police who arranged for a “placebo package” to be sent to Whittle and he was arrested by armed police shortly afterwards.
Police examined the weapon seized by the authorities and found that it was in “working order”.
They also found a total of 150 rounds of ammunition which were loaded with a “copper jacketed hollow point bullet”
Officers also found quantities of cocaine and MDMA at Whittle’s home, which they believed had a maximum street value of £5055.
Ms Green said that her client had suffered from poor mental health in recent times.
She added: “During lockdown the accused was at a low ebb. He had most of his time on the Internet and spent most of his time taking drugs.”
Ms Green also said that Whittle had no intention of supplying the weapon to gangsters and this meant the court didn’t have to impose an automatic five year sentence.
She added: “The accused has no links to organised crime. There is little chance that this gun would have fallen into the hands of the criminal community.”
However, Lady Poole concluded that no exceptional circumstances had been established and she sent Whittle to prison.