Page last updated at 01:31 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Intelligence service links 350 guns to crimes

The organisation believes there are fewer guns on the streets

A firearms database has linked more than 350 guns with crimes in its first year of operation in England and Wales.

The National Ballistics Intelligence Service (Nabis) works by combining advanced forensic technology and police intelligence information.

It has played a key role in prosecuting "armourers", including Paul Alexander, who was jailed indefinitely last year.

Nabis says guns are becoming difficult to obtain - meaning rival gangs must sometimes use the same weapons.

The service, which was jointly established by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in November 2008, helps forces to solve crimes in which guns have been used, identify the individuals who import and supply them illegally, and track down people who are illegally converting or adapting them.

A distinctive fingerprint is left on the bullet every time a weapon is fired. Combining those marks with police investigations on a giant database reveals patterns of use across the country.

In most cases guns are tied to a particular area, but in some the same weapon has been linked with separate shootings hundreds of miles apart. Guns which have apparently lain dormant for more than a decade can reappear.

Gun myth

Det Ch Supt Paul James, Nabis programme manager, said capturing key suppliers meant there were fewer guns on the streets. He added it was wrong to suggest guns could be bought cheaply and easily.

"It's a myth that you can go into a pub and pick up a gun for £50," he said.

There are three Nabis centres in England and Wales and a fourth is due to open in Glasgow later this year.

Its scientists are also called on to carry out fast-track DNA and fingerprinting analysis for the most serious murder and terrorism cases.

This pioneering ballistics work has helped to bring ruthless criminals to justice and clamp down on the minority of people who use guns illegally
David Hanson
Police minister

Police minister David Hanson said: "Thankfully gun crime is rare and continues to decline. However, when it occurs it ruins lives and devastates communities - and that is why we are committed to getting weapons off our streets.

"Through state-of-the-art intelligence Nabis has been instrumental in enabling the police to truly understand the extent and nature of gun crime in ways not previously possible.

"This pioneering ballistics work has helped to bring ruthless criminals to justice and clamp down on the minority of people who use guns illegally."

Nabis also says difficulty in getting weapons meant rival criminal gangs are having to use the same weapons, which they hire from a common source.

Det Ch Supt James said: "We see the same guns being used over and over again.

"Scarcity is such that they are exploiting that weapon, to lease and rent those firearms out.

"The same gun can be used by people on both sides of the equation. One gun on an estate can be used by people you would not expect to be allies."

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