A RECLUSE who imported a firearm, drugs and extreme pornography via the dark web has been jailed.
Stephen Brownlee’s home in Thelwall was raided by the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit following an FBI investigation into cybercrime.
The 49-year-old was handed three years behind bars last week after he was found to have bought a number of prohibited items from the network that was brought down by the international taskforce.
Chester Crown Court heard that Operation Bayonet targeted online dark web marketplace AlphaBay, where illegal materials where bought and sold using cryptocurrencies.
This led to the website’s founder being arrested in Thailand in July 2017.
The FBI then shared intelligence gathered during the investigation with other law enforcement authorities around the world.
Brownlee was found to have imported a Zoraki 9mm blank firing handgun from Spain using AlphaBay.
When a search warrant was executed at his address on Cuerdon Drive in May, it was discovered that he had attempted to convert the weapon using a drill in order to turn it into a viable firearm.
Guides on how to make submachine guns, explosives and gunpowder were found on his computer, as were 98 explicit videos depicting simulated rape and sex acts involving animals.
Three jars filled with cannabis and shotgun cartridges were also seized by police.
Brownlee told officers that he had purchased the gun in order to scare off potential burglars in the event of a break-in.
He was described in court as living a ‘reclusive and secluded existence, like a hermit’ in an annex attached to his parents’ house – but has ‘no known links’ to any terrorist organisations.
Urging the court to suspend the imprisonment, defence barrister Richard Vardon said: “Put bluntly, is he a socially isolated man who with time on his hands allowed his curiosity to get the better of him or is he a dangerous individual who possesses some risk to society?
“This is a man who is approaching middle age and has always been interested in firearms – he is plainly an intelligent man who is highly skilled in IT, he comes from a good background and was earning a good income at the time of his arrest.
“He made a half-hearted attempt to convert the weapon, but gave up quickly shortly thereafter.
“This is a man who has learned a very hard lesson indeed and he will never come back before any court of law in his lifetime.”
Brownlee admitted two firearms offences, possession of extreme pornographic images and possession of cannabis during an earlier hearing.
Sentencing, judge Nicholas Woodward said: “It may be that Mr Brownlee, albeit not a terrorist, is an unusual character, and unusual characters have done dreadful things with firearms and explosives.
“Significantly, you attempted to convert this firearm to make it capable of discharging.
“I have concluded that these offences are so serious that this cannot be dealt with in any other way then an immediate custodial sentence.”
Forfeiture and destruction of the seized materials was also ordered.
Brownlee blew a kiss to his dad and brother in the public gallery as he was taken down to the cells.
Detective chief inspector Dave Meeney said: “We welcome the sentencing of Stephen Brownlee today and hope that this serves as a reminder to anyone intending to make illegal purchases on the internet, whether this is on the open or dark web, that we have dedicated teams working to protect our communities, and offenders will be brought before the courts.”