The National Crime Agency has warned that an increasing number of arms are arriving at UK addresses via the postal system, in either kit form or disguised as some other package – in one case as a vintage clock.
A rising number of cases in Northern Ireland are also linked to guns or drugs ordered via the dark web.
The founder of anti-gun campaign Yes to Life, Reverend Desmond Jaddoo, says all too many of the packages are making their way on to the streets of Birmingham, which overtook London as the gun crime capital of the UK in 2015.
In recent weeks, the city has been hit by a spate of shootings, including an attack with a sawn off shotgun in the suburb of Quinton.
Rev Jaddoo said: “Why can’t there be tighter controls? These things are coming over in the mail. Some of them are antique type things that can be brought back into commission.”
The PSNI has been busy with a string of arrests related to the dark web:
l In April they arrested a 14-year-old boy in Coleraine and charged him with trying to buy a Russian sub-machine gun and 100 rounds of ammunition on the dark web. He allegedly claimed he wished to intimidate a third party.
l In May a High Court judge heard that a man allegedly involved in trying to buy a gun on the dark web was part of a Carrickfergus gangland feud.
l The PSNI recently seized a laptop during a human trafficking operation which was being used to breach UK government web sites, using software purchased from the dark net. Over 1,000 victims of attempted identity theft were identified.
l Two drug traffickers from Northern Ireland were jailed for 14 years for using the ‘Silk Road’ – a dark net website – to buy and sell drugs after being caught in a FBI-PSNI operation.
l A PSNI officer serving in east Belfast has been charged with trying to acquire a pistol, ammunition and silencer over the ‘dark net’ and is accused of being involved in drug dealing.
l One man from Coleraine and another from east Belfast were told recently by a judge that they face ‘substantial custodial sentences’ over a lucrative drugs racket using the dark web.
Buying illegal goods from the dark web is risky. As well as undercover police officers on patrol, some sites posing as vendors of illegal goods and services have only one motivation - to blackmail potential buyers.