Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 09:28 UK

Gun smuggling 'common' in UK army

Locals and police would sell guns in Iraq, the men said

Two former soldiers who were jailed for their involvement in a gun smuggling ring have said the practice is common in the British army.

Shane Pleasant and Ben Whitfield were in the Third Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, when they helped to smuggle weapons from Iraq into Europe.

They said if soldiers had the right contacts it was easy to smuggle weapons out of countries.

The MoD said there was no evidence such guns were used in crimes in the UK.

The two soldiers told BBC Radio 5 Live that weapons could be obtained in Iraq or Afghanistan, either by buying or stealing from locals and foreign police.

Both soldiers said that with the right contacts it was easy to smuggle the weapons into the UK, but both the Ministry of Defence and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said there was little cause for concern.

There's always a way to get your stuff out of a country if you want to get it out without getting caught
Shane Pleasant

The Ministry of Defence says there is no evidence that any guns used in crimes have been smuggled here by soldiers, while Acpo said the incidents of soldiers smuggling have been isolated.

About transporting the weapons, Pleasant said: "In Iraq the lads were seeing Iraqi police officers, buying them off them, buying them off the civilians and then they were paying people to smuggle them back in tanks, in Warrior armoured personnel carriers, Land Rovers, tool boxes or any kind of equipment that would get brought back from the operational theatre.

"It were that easy to get them."

Smuggling ring

He said it was always easy to get weapons out of Iraq.

"There has been a few people that's been involved in it, there's always a way to get your stuff out of a country if you want to get it out without getting caught.

"If you know the right people - you're laughing. It were a guy who I knew at work who got me mine."

The two men were among seven soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment who were found guilty of being involved in a gun smuggling ring.

One was imprisoned in 2006, another was ordered to serve six months in an army detention centre and a further three were jailed in 2007.

In addition, Pleasant, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was jailed for five years and four months in 2006 for buying a pistol, which had been smuggled from Iraq.

Whitfield, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, was also jailed the same year for two years and eight months after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice. He hid one of the guns from the police.

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