Anthony Beard used real passports with other people’s names and changed the photos to match criminals, including two murderers on the run.

He admitted his crimes and got six years and eight months in prison. Chris McCormack, who connected him with crime gangs, got eight years.

Judge Nicholas Ainley said they had enabled “evil, violent criminals”.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said Beard’s customers earned “a lot of money from organised crime”.

A third gang member, Alan Thompson, got three years.

Anthony Beard, 61, from Sydenham, in South London, started getting real passports for criminals to use 20 years ago.

He would look for vulnerable people in rehab centres and veterans’ shelters, who often had drug or alcohol issues, and convince them to give him their identity for a small amount of money.

He would then renew the vulnerable person’s old passport, but the photo he used would be a recent one of a wanted criminal who wanted a new identity.

By renewing the passport, he skipped the need for a face-to-face interview – needed for new passport applicants – something that a criminal hiding in another country could not do.

Beard signed the passport photos himself. Later, he got other people – who claimed to be “licensees” and “psychiatrists” – to say that the passport photos were accurate.

The NCA said Beard may have given up to 108 fake real passports (FOGs) over 20 years, asking for £15,000 – £20,000 for each one. The person whose passport was used got as little as £100.

After running the scam for a while, Beard met Chris McCormack, 67, also called Christopher Zietek, a long-time criminal who lived in South London, Ireland and Spain.

In the 1990s, McCormack was connected to a famous North London gang, called the Adams Family, the A-team, or the Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate. He was once on trial for torturing a man who had a debt to the Adams family, in a terrible attack like the movie Reservoir Dogs. At the end of the attack, only skin kept the man’s nose and left ear on his face.

Even though he had the victim’s blood on his jacket, McCormack was cleared of trying to kill him by a jury.

McCormack had a reputation as a criminal and was trusted by gangsters who were hiding and became a kind of middleman. He was the link between Beard, in South London, and serious criminals in Spain and Dubai who wanted passports to travel without being seen.

McCormack helped Beard give passports to some of the UK’s most wanted criminals.

Beard and McCormack got passports for at least five possible members of the Gillespie gang from Glasgow, believed to be one of the richest organized crime groups in Scotland.

One Gillespie gang member, Jordan Owens, ran away to Portugal after killing Jamie Lee in Glasgow, in 2017. He was brought back to Scotland and found guilty of murder, in 2022.

Another, Christopher Hughes, murdered Martin Kok in the Netherlands, in 2016. He was eventually captured in Italy in 2020, and also convicted in 2022.

The NCA thinks Beard and McCormack also provided passports to several suspected drug traffickers in the gang.

Another leading criminal to whom Beard supplied a passport was Irish cartel boss Christy Kinahan Snr. The US government has offered a $5m reward for information leading to Kinahan’s arrest.

Officers think Beard also obtained passports for Liverpool drug trafficker Michael Moogan, firearms trafficker Richard Burdett, and Jamie Acourt, one of the original suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder. Acourt never actually received the passport obtained for him. He was arrested in Spain in 2018 and subsequently convicted of drug-dealing.

Craig Turner, NCA deputy director, said he supplied people “at the top end of serious organised crime”, adding: “They’d made an awful lot of money out of organised criminality, both in the UK and internationally.”

The NCA’s investigation – known as Operation Strey – began in 2017 and would become of the agency’s most significant inquiries, involving extensive surveillance.

Undercover officers filmed Beard meeting vulnerable people who were supplying him with passports for renewal, and with gang members and co-conspirators. They recorded McCormack in his home discussing passport applications with Beard and with his customers.

The NCA says it worked closely with His Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), Police Scotland and Dutch police. Officers obtained recordings of Beard’s phone calls to HMPO, in which he can be heard enquiring about passport applications under different names. They also found paper passport applications with his fingerprints on them.

Beard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to supply fraudulent documents on 3 January, prior to the trial at Reading Crown Court. As a result his sentence was reduced by the judge.

McCormack, and his co-conspirator Alan Thompson, 72, were both convicted by a jury.

Passing sentence, Judge Ainley described the scam as “a highly professional, skilled operation”. He said: “It was to enable very wicked, sophisticated, violent criminals to escape justice by providing them with documents that because they were genuine would deceive the authorities to enable them to escape.”

The judge added that Zietek was “clearly the organizer”, providing a link to serious criminals, while Beard was “the leg man” and Thompson had a lesser role.

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