Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 18:05 UK

Gun factory in country garden

By Michael Stoddard
BBC News, Reading

Grant Wilkinson
Wilkinson "spotted a niche in the market"
Grant Wilkinson thought it was the perfect plan - to convert replica guns into live firing weapons in a factory in one of the most unlikely of locations.

No-one suspected such an operation was being carried out in the two overgrown and rundown outbuildings behind a semi-detached house, near Reading, in Berkshire.

The Briars, in Three Miles Cross, is a world away from the streets of London where many of the weapons ended up and were used in murders and shootings.

But Wilkinson is now facing prison after being found guilty at Reading Crown Court of seven firearms offences relating to the conversion of replica Mac-10 sub machine guns.

Cover story

Wilkinson could see the two sheds at the rear of the property in Basingstoke Road was an ideal place to set up a gun factory undetected.

The 34-year-old saw a "niche in the market" to supply gangsters in London with machine guns, the court heard during his trial.

The Briars
The rundown appearance of the buildings fooled everyone

It all started when he bought 90 blank-firing Mac-10 sub machine guns worth 55,201 from Sabre Defence Industries in Middlesex in July 2004.

Wilkinson, who called himself Gary Wilson, used a cover story claiming the guns were to be used in a James Bond film.

He regularly visited dealer Guy Savage to pick up his order in batches of 10, but the cracks in his story soon started to appear.

Mr Savage became suspicious of Wilkinson, who he described in court as "desperately disorganised" and "acting in a way that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up".

On one of his visits he secretly took a photograph of him, which was later handed to police following the discovery of the gun factory.

With the replicas bought, Wilkinson had precision lathes, drills and machinery delivered to the sheds under the noses of unsuspecting neighbours who thought the equipment was being used for legitimate reasons.

Grant Wilkinson snapped on a mobile phone
Mr Savage became suspicious and took a picture of Wilkinson

But he left a trail. He bought many items, including ammunition components and gun paraphernalia, through his eBay account, while credit card payments for advertisements for tenants at The Briars were also traced back to him.

He even once used the Eastenders hard man character Grant Mitchell as an alias when the council requested to know who was liable for council tax at the address, the court heard.

Through his eBay account, Wilkinson bought two metal structures which were constructed within the sound-proofed outbuildings where test-firing and work could be carried out without the chance of the outside world hearing anything suspicious.

In the smaller of the structures, labelled the Test Room, guns were fired to test they functioned correctly. The court heard that converted guns regularly jammed and would have to be thoroughly tested before being sold on.

In the larger outbuilding, known as the Workshop, there was precision equipment where the deadly conversions were carried out for two years.

Tony Humphreys in one of the outbuildings at The Briars
Neighbour Mr Humphreys found the steel structure when he went inside

But on a sunny afternoon in July 2007 Wilkinson's dark secret was finally uncovered.

Neighbour Tony Humphreys said: "I was out in the garden talking to a neighbour when there was a lot of commotion from the back of the outbuildings.

"We both looked over the fence and saw the Polish tenants [who lived at The Briars] inside and they said 'come and see this'.

"We got some torches and found the big metal cage inside the building and there were 9mm rounds on the ground, gun barrels on the floor and various other paraphernalia.

Lasting legacy

"I used to belong to gun clubs in my time in the RAF and I have seen some of this equipment before and my mind twigged - it was a gun factory."

The discovery sent shockwaves through the community and is set to leave a lasting legacy.

"You get people stopping in the street asking 'Is that the gun factory?' and that's a year later," Mr Humphreys added.

The Briars
Mr Humphreys said people ask in the street which is the gun factory house

"Three Miles Cross is very, very quiet. You wouldn't expect it here, you wouldn't expect it anywhere."

Ian Clarke, whose farm backs onto The Briars, said: "When I heard about it I was gobsmacked.

"The buildings are away from the road and not surrounded by houses so there could have been banging, welding, cutting all those sort of things and people wouldn't have heard.

"I know the person who used to live there and he is as gobsmacked as anyone else.

"When you see and hear local people talking about it they just shake their heads with disbelief."

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