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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 13:01 GMT
Police in replica gun raids
A Lady K replica gun
Officers seized replica guns which could be adapted
Police have seized more than 1,700 replica guns in raids on three shops in Manchester.

It is believed to be the biggest single haul of prohibited weapons in England.

The weapons are all blank-firing but can be adapted to shoot real bullets.

Meanwhile, police are warning of a growing threat from guns disguised as everyday objects such as pens and torches.

Disguised guns

BBC News has learned that a list of up to 60 different types of disguised guns - and knives - is about to be circulated to authorities across Europe.

On Thursday, Greater Manchester Police seized 1,744 replica guns in raids on three branches Licensed to Thrill.

The company had been named in an investigation by BBC Two's Newsnight programme into the trade in replica guns.

The raids took place under existing laws banning weapons which can easily be converted to fire real bullets.

It is thought police bought a number of guns and sent them for forensic examination to discover whether they could be adapted to fire real bullets.

A total of 1,744 weapons were recovered - 70 Lady K model blank-firing self-loading pistols, 310 other blank-firing self-loading pistols and 1,364 blank-firing revolvers.

Disguised weapons
Cigarette packets
Belt buckles
Mobile phones

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Lay, head of Greater Manchester Police's Armed Crime Unit, said: "The Lady K model certainly breaks the law as it can be readily converted and we have seen examples of this.

"The other weapons we seized may also breach the legislation and these will now be forensically examined.

"Most people could not tell the difference between a replica and a real firearm and blank-firing weapons which can be easily converted can pose as serious a threat as guns."

Meanwhile, a summit on gun crime was being chaired by Home Secretary David Blunkett on Friday.

On the agenda are gaps in firearms legislation, the rise in small arms imports from the Balkans and measures to clampdown on intimidation of witnesses to shootings.

Mr Blunkett said: "In recent months we have allocated 1.4m to create a database of weapons used in crime and pushed tackling gun crime to the fore in the street crime initiative.

"We have demonstrated that this continues to be a priority by toughening the laws on illegal weapons, air guns and replicas.

"We are determined to ensure that we are doing everything possible to stop gun violence, and today's meeting is an important part of that."

Gun haul
Officers raided three branches of the same shop

Lucy Cope, from Mothers Against Guns, said the summit was a "gimmick".

Her son Damian was shot in London last year, but Ms Cope said the government was only now taking notice of the problem.

But Mr Blunkett said: "If listening to people and drawing on experience is a gimmick, I plead guilty."

The National Criminal Intelligence Service, which highlights the increasing sophistication with which weapons are being concealed, is one of the participants at the summit.

Open in new window : Graphic guide
Crime at-a-glance, crunching the numbers

There is particular concern about the possible risk to airline security.

Guns have been disguised as screwdrivers, cigarette packets, pens, belt buckles and mobile phones, it says.

How can guns be made less accessible?
The government should go for a complete ban on the import of all replica guns

Nick, UK

Weapons manufacture was previously limited to Central and Eastern European countries, but now intelligence suggests they are being made more widely throughout Europe.

However, most of these weapons have limited range and accuracy and so far only small numbers have been recovered in the UK.

Friday's summit comes a day after new Home Office figures showed gun crime has risen by 35% in a year.

Earlier this week, the government unveiled plans to introduce a five-year minimum jail sentence for anyone illegally possessing a firearm.

That was followed by plans to ban anyone carrying a replica or air weapon in a public place without a good reason, as well as new age limits.

  The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"The Home Secretary is chairing the summit"
  Lucy Cope, Mothers Against Guns
"It's a fashion accessory"
  Kevin Morris, Police Superintendents Association
"Pulling together all the agencies is the only way to solve the problem"

Click here to go to Manchester

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See also:

10 Jan 03 | Politics
09 Jan 03 | Politics
06 Jan 03 | Politics
08 Jan 03 | Politics
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