A former professional footballer has been convicted after firearms, ammunition and Class A drugs were seized from his home.

Retired centre forward Paul Shepherd played for Oldham Athletic in 2001, ending his career at Stalybridge Celtic in 2005.

Now he is facing a lengthy jail sentence after police stopped his car during lockdown and found a 'block' of cocaine.

His Leeds home on Stainbeck Lane, Chapel Allerton, was searched in April last year and officers also found a Glock semi-automatic pistol, a Howa bolt-action rifle, 200 rounds of ammunition and small quantities of cannabis and crack cocaine, as well as an EncroChat phone.

After the discovery of the phone, the National Crime Agency launched an investigation as part of Operation Venetic - UK law enforcement's response to the encrypted Europe-based communication platform EncroChat, LeedsLive reports.

Now, officers from the NCA have said that Shepherd went to 'great lengths' to arm himself - and that had they not been intercepted there was the potential for 'loss of life'.

Messages on the seized device linked Shepherd to the firearms and triggered further arrests and seizures across West Yorkshire, Merseyside and the North East.

Those arrested included Liverpool man Gerard Wignall whose DNA was found on the rifle at Shepherd's house. The 33-year-old was jailed for a year and four months last month.

The rifle was traced back to a commercial burglary and was being looked after by Wignall before it was transported to West Yorkshire.

A further suspect, Carl O'Flaherty, of Leysholme Terrace, Wortley, Leeds, was arrested in June 2020 and pleaded guilty to multiple drugs and firearms offences the following month.

Evidence proved that O'Flaherty helped source the firearm for Shepherd and took eventual payment for it.

A third man from Swarcliffe, Leeds, Shane Kameka, also pleaded guilty to being involved in supplying firearms.

Kameka acted as a courier and transported the rifle from Merseyside.

Investigators believe they were assisted by Clinton Blakey, 36, of Dunstarn Drive, Adel, Leeds, who is currently wanted by the NCA after failing to appear at court after he was charged in August.

On Thursday (June 17), 42-year-old Shepherd was found guilty of four charges relating to possessing a firearm and class A drugs after a three-day trial at Leeds Crown Court.

Shepherd, 42, Kameka, 40, and O'Flaherty, 36, are due to be sentenced at a later date. Kameka will also be sentenced for a separate arson offence during the hearing.

A fifth man, who is from County Durham, is due to go on trial next year.

NCA Operations Manager, Nigel Coles, said: "Shepherd went to great lengths to acquire dangerous firearms that were criminally sourced.

"We're pleased that the evidence presented at court this week has secured a guilty verdict and hope further charges can be proven at a later date.

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"The seriousness of gun crime cannot be underestimated. Had we not intercepted these weapons they would have been used to threaten and intimidate others with the potential loss of life.

"Criminals like Shepherd, O’Flaherty and Kameka perpetuate violent crime and are only motivated by financial gain. Reducing the availability of illegal firearms remains a priority for the NCA.

"We are still seeking one other man involved in this investigation.

"Anyone with information on Clinton Blakey's whereabouts is urged to contact the National Crime Agency on 0370 496 7622 or contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111."