Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 15:48 UK

Police want action over gun law

By Michael Stoddard and Damon Embling
BBC News

A recovered Mac 10 sub-machine gun and components
Wilkinson legally bought and converted replica guns before a change in the law

Grant Wilkinson was able to walk in to a legitimate dealer and buy 90 replica guns legally, obtain the tools and with seemingly little know-how convert them into deadly weapons for his own gain.

Wilkinson was found guilty at Reading Crown Court of seven firearm offences in relation to converting Mac-10 sub machine guns into live weapons at The Briars in Three Mile Cross, near Reading.

His co-accused, Gary Lewis, was cleared of all charges.

The weapons have been linked to more than 50 shootings, including seven murders in London.

The case has fuelled a demand for the law on deactivated guns, which can be converted to fire live ammunition, to be tightened.

Realistic imitation firearms - like the ones Wilkinson bought - were banned from 1 October, 2007, under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006.

Thankfully gun crime remains rare in this country and we will continue to support police and the courts

Home Office spokesperson

But it is still legal to buy deactivated guns which, with the right knowledge, can be converted into live weapons.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith unveiled plans at the start of the year to ban these types of guns but ministers are still consulting on a way forward.

They have to consider the implications on a number of people, including museums with collections of antique weapons.

Det Ch Supt George Turner, who led the Thames Valley Police investigation into the factory at The Briars, said: "The legislation around the supply of firearms is basically phrased around the illegal supply and rogue dealers as opposed to criminals who have taught themselves to convert weapons.

'Loopholes need closing'

"The fact that Wilkinson... [had] been able to convert the weapons with relative ease is a concern."

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is calling for the government to act quicker on its promise.

Det Ch Supt George Turner
Det Ch Supt George Turner said criminals will exploit loopholes

Assistant Chief Constable Sue Fish, ACPO's lead member for the criminal use of firearms, said: "The law has changed [in relation to replica guns] and we are working with the government to increasingly tighten it up further.

"The home secretary has said she will be looking into further types of firearms which are currently legal and freely available.

"We are hopeful this will happen because it is a loophole that needs closing.

"But there is also the trouble that the legislation is very complicated and lots of legitimate dealers don't always stay up to date.

"There is a real desire by the police to say lets simplify it and put criminals at a greater disadvantage."

Dr Daniel Silverstone is a principal lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth and carried out a study into gun crime which showed it has doubled over the last 10 years.

He defended the government which he said has taken a "robust" approach to the problem.

Dr Daniel Silverstone
Dr Silverstone said the government has taken a "robust" approach

"It is difficult to legislate this problem out of existence," he added.

"We have seen recent law changes along with the introduction of the national ballistic database which is proving a vital tool in finding out how many of these weapons exist.

"Key findings of our study showed criminals struggle to get hold of firearms and we found them to be less available than we originally thought."

He said the practice of converting deactivated guns was still rare, citing the relatively small profits available to criminals.

"I don't think it is a particularly lucrative business when you look at it compared to the drugs industry for instance.

"We found converted guns go for between 400 and 800 and considering you have to buy them first and convert them the profits are not massive," Dr Silverstone said.

The Home Office said Britain already has the toughest firearms legislation in the world and it is looking at making them tougher.

A spokesperson said: "It is now an offence to import or sell realistic imitation firearms, whether via the internet or any other means and we are looking how we can get deactivated firearms off our streets.

"Thankfully gun crime remains rare in this country and we will continue to support police and the courts."

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