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File on 4 investigates the British arms trade

File on 4’s programme shines a light on the dark world of the British arms trade and the failure to enforce stricter regulations on British exporters. / Image via Flickr

File on 4 shines a light on the dark world of the UK arms trade and the failure to enforce stricter regulations on British exporters. / Image via Flickr

A hard-hitting report from BBC Radio 4’s “File on 4” exposes the murky underworld of the arms trade business in the United Kingdom.

In December 2012, Gary Hyde was imprisoned for seven years for his role in shipping over 70,000 assault rifles, 10,000 handguns and 32 million rounds of ammunition from China to Nigeria.  He earned almost £1 million from the deal, hidden in overseas bank accounts. The weapons and ammunition – enough to equip a small army – have since disappeared.

Hyde, a former special constable and legitimate gun wholesaler, had helped broker various arms deals, including for the British Government. The deal itself between China and Nigeria was lawful. However, according to the Judge that imprisoned him, Hyde got carried away by his own greed and the enormous profits that could be made. He deliberately failed to apply for a proper export licence, fearing it might be refused, or that he might have to report the very substantial earnings he stood to gain to British authorities.

File on 4 reveals for the first time that despite being the subject of a major criminal investigation in the Nigeria deal, the UK police and Ministry of Defence continue to buy weapons and ammunition from Hyde between 2007 and 2012.

In another case, arms dealer Guy Savage was granted an arms export licence, despite having been found guilty on five firearms charges, including three counts of selling prohibited rifles and two counts of owning contraband weapons.  Savage was later accused and wanted for extradition by US authorities for allegations of smuggling weapons from Tennessee to the UK using false bottomed shipping containers, forged shipping manifests, and finding regulators who would be willing to turn a blind eye to his operations.

US authorities warned the Home Office about these allegations in 2009.  However Savage’s licence was not revoked until 2011. Andy Marsh, from the Association of Chief Police Officers said, “I would exercise very great caution over issuing a licence for a dealership…to anyone who had convictions, let alone convictions for firearms-related offences.” The British government clearly failed to apply this in Guy Savage’s case.

File on 4’s programme shines a light on the dark world of the British arms trade and the failure to enforce stricter regulations on British exporters. It is available on BBC iPlayer.