Businesses shocked as UK police uncover illegal gun factory at gearbox repair centre

Business owners in the UK have expressed shock at learning police there discovered a suspected “sophisticated illegal gun factory” near their premises on the edge of a market town.

British National Crime Agency officers found what they believe to be a “large-scale” operation in a warehouse describing itself as a gearbox repair business on an industrial estate in Hailsham, East Sussex, in the south of England.

Police heard “loud bangs consistent with gun shots” when they arrived at the scene in Diplocks Way on Saturday and arrested three men found leaving the building.

A Taser had to be used on one of them, an NCA spokesman said.

Two handguns were found before a wider search of the premises revealed about 30 handguns in various stages of production and a “large quantity” of ammunition, the head of the NCA’s National Firearms Threat Centre, Rob Hickinbottom, said during a press conference at the site today.

“Components used in the criminal manufacture of firearms and ammunition” like metal, blueprints and templates for guns, as well as machinery, were discovered, he added.

Business owners based in nearby units told of their surprise at the discovery.

Ammunition found inside the alleged illegal gun factory (National Crime Agency/PA)

John Saunders, who runs Wealden Installations Ltd, said he arrived to open up at 7am on Monday to find the small corner of the Diplocks industrial estate “packed with police”.

He said: “There were armed police watching it.

“When I learnt what had been found it really surprised me.

“We never saw anything suspicious. It was just a normal business near ours.”

Another nearby business owner claimed to have fitted gearboxes for the workshop.

The 41-year-old man, who asked not to be named, said: “It was just a normal set-up. I never saw anything unusual.

“It is a complete surprise to hear what was found in this area. Hailsham is a quiet town.

“They supplied the gearboxes and I supplied the time. I worked with the business for about 18 months.”

Mr Hickinbottom said the “significant” find included several guns in various stages of production and it was “rare” to find guns being manufactured in this manner.

He added: “It is rare, it happens and it does happen but normally the production is on a smaller scale than the scale we have seen over the last few days.

“It is extremely rare to find a gun factory producing, using blueprints.”

It is believed the guns were being fired for testing when the shots were heard on Saturday, he said.

It is not yet known how long the suspected factory had been operating or if guns had already been supplied and used in other offences.

But Mr Hickinbottom said the operation was both “dangerous” to the public and those involved in the manufacturing as it was not a professional or licensed outfit.

He said: “The problem we have at the moment is determining just how long [the outfit] has been producing the weapons.

“Our investigation is continuing, and much of what we have discovered at this location will now be the subject of careful forensic analysis.

“We suspect this operation has disrupted a group that would appear to be involved in the criminal production of firearms.

The inside of the alleged gun factory (National Crime Agency/PA)

“As a result, we have prevented a potentially large quantity of weapons from getting on to the black market and into the hands of criminals.”

The area has been sealed off while investigations, carried out by the NCA and Sussex Police, continue.

Other locations in the UK, which have not been disclosed, have also been searched.

An NCA officer was injured during the raid but not seriously hurt, Mr Hickinbottom added.

Greg Akehurst, 29, of no fixed address, and Mark Kinman, 63, of Bramwell Mews, Hailsham, England, were both charged with possessing a firearm.

Kyle Wood, 30, of Gratwicke Drive, Littlehampton, England, was charged with the same offence as well as possessing ammunition.

They were remanded in custody and are due to appear at Kingston Crown Court on September 17.

- Press Association

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