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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Machine-gun 'bought for 1,700'
Map of Essex and east London
Police tailed the machine-gun from Woodford to Benflet
A powerful machine-gun capable of piercing 32 inches of solid oak from 100 yards was sold for 1,700 to a London businessman, a court has heard.

The Yugoslavian-made Sarac 7.92mm Mauser light machine-gun was discovered in the boot of Jimmy Love's car when it was stopped by armed police at a petrol station in Benfleet, Essex, a jury at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court was told.

Love, 54, an antiques dealer, from Ongar, Essex, denies conspiracy to transfer a prohibited weapon and conspiracy to possess ammunition.

It is inconceivable that anyone would hand that (gun) over to someone to be used for an innocent purpose."

Justin Rouse, prosecutor
His co-accused, Arthur Vale, 57, from Eltham, south east London, Steven Franks, 52, from Wapping, east London, and Leslie Wassell, 52, from South Benfleet, Essex, have also pleaded not guilty to the same charges.

Love alone is also charged with possession of an offensive weapons, namely a baseball bat and a ball pein hammer.

Franks, a tobacco retailer with shops in Belgium, has pleaded guilty to possessive of an offensive weapon - an extendable cosh.

'Illegal armourer'

Justin Rouse, prosecuting, told the court the machine gun was purchased from an "illegal armourer", Robert Hills, from Brentwood, Essex.

Hills, 47, whose licence to deal in firearms was revoked by the police in 1991, kept much of his arsenal in the loft of his elderly mother's home in Woodford Green, north east London.

The court heard that Hills, a car parts salesman, and the other four were arrested after a long-running surveillance operation.

Mr Rouse said plain-clothes police watched as Hills drove to his mother's house on 20 March 2001 and loaded the machine gun into the back of his Range Rover.

Helicopter called in

They then followed him to rural Essex, but lost him when he drove down a dirt track.

Mr Rouse said a police helicopter was called and located Hills' Range Rover outside a farm, which belonged to Mr Wassell.

He said police observed as the gun was transferred to Mr Love's car by Mr Franks.

Armed police swooped on Mr Love after he left the farm.

Mr Rouse said Mr Vale and Mr Franks spotted Mr Love being arrested and sped off at speeds of up to 100mph in the direction of London. They were arrested later, as was Mr Wassell.

Police then swooped on the home of Hills' mother and found a considerable amount of firearms in the attic.

Mr Rouse said the prosecution did not know who Mr Love was buying the machine gun for, but he suggested it may have been for a contact in Scotland.

Scottish banknotes

When they were stopped Hills was found to have 1,700 in Scottish banknotes on him - as well as a canister of CS gas - and Mr Love had 2,340 in Scottish notes.

Mr Rouse told the jury: "You may think that he got a better deal than he expected."

The jurors were shown a video of the machine gun being test fired by police.

Afterwards Mr Rouse said: 'It is inconceivable that anyone would hand that over to someone to be used for an innocent purpose."

Mr Rouse told jurors they should not concern themselves with Hills, who is not before the court.

The trial continues.

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