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EDITIONS
Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 06:08 GMT 07:08 UK
Landmine 'salesman' suspended
Princess Diana in Tuzla on her landmine crusade
Princess Diana campaigned against landmines
A company accused of unlawfully marketing anti-personnel landmines has suspended one of its senior executives.

PW Defence have "withdrawn from duty" David Howell, who was allegedly secretly recorded offering to sell the weapons to a BBC reporter.

Derbyshire Police have started investigations - paying an "informal visit" to the factory - and the share price of parent company Chemring Group Plc fell sharply as a result.

But Chemring has denied the weapons are being manufactured and blamed Mr Howell's comments on his own "confusion".

Roger Berry MP
Berry called for an investigation
The overseas sales manager appeared to offer 500 landmines at a price of 25,000 to BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent Andrew Gilligan, posing as a customer.

Such weapons are banned under the Ottawa Convention and production and sale is outlawed in the UK under the 1998 Landmines Act.

MPs demanded an inquiry into the company after the revelations on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday.

Later that day, police visited the company factory in Derbyshire.

'No sales since 1999'

During a secretly recorded interview, Mr Howell was heard to admit to Mr Gilligan the grenades were "on the fringes of legality".

A spokesman for Chemring later told the BBC Mr Howell had been withdrawn from duty and was not currently involved in the selling process.

He added Mr Howell had been "confused" when he made the offer and had "forgotten" the company no longer sells anti-personnel landmines.
Andrew Gilligan
Andrew Gilligan: Posed as customer

An earlier Chemring statement said: "Chemring maintains policies and procedures to ensure compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements, including proper vetting of proposed sales.

"Chemring ceased manufacture and sale of this type of trip wire five years ago.

"We subsequently ceased manufacture of this type of fragmentation grenade and the final sale was made in May 1999."

Labour MP Roger Berry, chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Defence Exports, promised to send a dossier outlining the claims to Derbyshire police and called for an immediate investigation.

His request was echoed by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell.

Customs and Excise say they are investigating the allegations, because it is their responsibility to oversee the export of landmines and the organisation of the international trade in landmines.

  • In January 2003 PW Defence was cleared by the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Customs & Excise, following a full investigation into claims that it had broken legislation banning the sale of anti-personnel landmines.
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