It was local community intelligence that led police to uncover the first ever illegal gun factory in the UK.
Sussex Police forwarded information direct to the National Crime Agency to investigate activity at Diplocks Way, Hailsham.
Following a raid in August and subsequent forensic search by the National Crime Agency and Sussex Police officers, three firearms were found and around 120 weapons were found in the process of being manufactured on the site.
Since then a further six guns made at the Diplocks Way unit have been recovered, with one such weapon known to have been used in two attempted murders in London.
Two men, Kyle Wood, 30, from Littlehampton and Greg Akehurst, 30, of no fixed abode, were jailed on 8 May for a combined 29-and-a-half years for conspiring to sell handguns.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Rayland, Head of Intelligence for Sussex Police, said: “This is another example of the way in which intelligence gathered from local people can impact on the constant need to combat organised criminality at national level.
“Intelligence gathered by our officers was instrumental in helping to start this NCA investigation, and our local officers, with our specialist search and firearms teams also provided valuable support when NCA officers carried out the arrests in Hailsham."
The NCA-led investigation subsequently revealed that a third arrested man Mark Kinman was the craftsman making the weapons, while Wood and Akehurst were involved in getting the firearms onto the criminal market.
Following a series of hearings at Kingston Crown Court, Akehurst pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and conspiring to sell or supply firearms. Mark Kinman pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and manufacturing firearms, but he died in prison before he was able to be sentenced.
Wood initially admitted possessing a firearm but pleaded not guilty to conspiring to sell or supply firearms. However on the second day of his trial on Wednesday 1 May he changed his plea to guilty.
A judge at Kingston Crown Court on Wednesday 8 May sentenced Kyle Wood to 11-and-a-half years in prison, while Greg Akehurst got 18 years.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Rayland added: “Sussex Police is committed to protecting our communities from harm. Where appropriate we will work with other law enforcement agencies to tackle the highest levels of criminality in our county; and the work led by the NCA and supported by Sussex Police by bringing these individuals to justice illustrates our ongoing fight to work collaboratively to investigate serious and organised crime.
“Tackling organised criminality is complex and we are reliant on the public, who play a vital role. I would strongly encourage the public to report their concerns to us and share community intelligence which helps us build and understand the picture. It is the eyes and ears of the public who know their areas best who I would encourage to contact us.
“There is no evidence that the weapons being produced were intended for use in Sussex, or that there was any specific risk to communities in Sussex.”
NCA Deputy Director of Investigations Chris Farrimond said: “The weapons being made there were lethal and for the criminal marketplace. The fact they had no serial markings made them all the more valuable to criminals. They represented a direct and real danger to our communities. A number of the weapons manufactured there we know have been used to commit violent acts on the streets.
“In dismantling this crime group we have stopped a significant supply line of criminal firearms and directly protected the public from the devastating impact those weapons would have had.
“As well as the NCA officers whose professionalism was key to getting this result, I’d also like to thank our partners from Sussex Police and the CPS who played vital roles alongside us. We will continue to work with them to do all we can to tackle serious violence and gun crime.”
Author: Jill Pedersen
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