ARMED police intercepted a gang as they attempted to move a double barrel shotgun from Southampton to London.

Balaclava-clad officers pulled over the van as it attempted to leave the city via Bassett Avenue.

When they searched the vehicle, police found a 20 gauge double barrel shotgun wrapped inside a towel.

At Southampton Crown Court, two men from Southampton were jailed for possessing a firearm without a licence.

One man, from London, was also jailed, while another, also from the capital, was given a suspended sentence.

The court heard how the two men from London, Ioan Cicioc and Stephen Price, travelled down to Southampton in a hired van on January 29 this year.

After arriving in the city, the pair picked up Peter Castle from his home and took him to the address of Graham Houlgate.

Prosecutor Mary Aspinall-Miles told the court that Castle got out of the van and approached Houlgate's home, in Cromer Road, Millbrook.

She said: "When he went out to collect from the address, the movement of the van was being observed by police from Hampshire Constabulary.

"They saw him take a three-foot-long item wrapped in polythene and a towel."

Ms Aspinall-Miles said armed police then intercepted the van, found the gun, which had been broken into parts, and arrested Price and Cicioc.

Ms Apsinall-Miles said the gun still contained a serial number, but that police were unable to find the registered owner.

She said the prosecution alleged that there was an "irresistable inference" that the gun was going to be used for criminal activity.

Meanwhile, Castle was arrested as he arrived at his home address, in Alder Road, Southampton.

Police also raided the home of Houlgate, where they found an "expensive and sophisticated" cannabis factory, six mature cannabis plants and £1,600 in cash.

Price, Cicioc and Castle all pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm without a licence.

Houlgate pleaded guilty to the production of cannabis, but was found guilty by jury of possession of a firearm without a licence.

Mitigating for Houlgate, barrister Mark Ashley said the 59-year-old suffered from poor mental and physical health, including depression and diabetes.

Mitigating for Castle, barrister Peter Asteris said the 52-year-old also suffered from mental health issues and faced an immediate custodial sentence due to committing the crime while on licence for a previous offence.

Mitigating for Cicioc, barrister Warwick Tatford said the 33-year-old was unaware of what was wrapped in the towel and was asked to be a driver by co-defendant Price.

Mitigating for Price, Paul Fairley said the 40-year-old was also unaware of what was in the package and that he had been asked to drive down to Southampton to pick up "three to four thousand pound in cash" to clear a drug debt.

Houlgate was jailed for 18 months for the gun offence and four months concurrent for the drugs offence.

Castle, who had previous firearms offences, was jailed for three years.

Price, of no fixed address, who was previously jailed for 12 years for drugs offences, was given a 31 month prison sentence.

Cicioc, of Drayton Gardens, London, was given a 16 month sentence suspended for two years and ordered to complete 300 hours of unpaid work.