Gun smugglers targetting Suffolk port

GUN runners are using Britain's biggest boxport to smuggle illegal weapons into the country, it was confirmed today.Customs officers working at Felixstowe said they regularly find guns hidden inside cargo – some of them weapons destined for the criminal underworld.

By Richard Cornwell

GUN-runners are using Felixstowe Port to smuggle illegal weapons into the country, it was confirmed today.

Customs officers working at the port said they regularly find guns hidden inside cargo – some of them weapons destined for the criminal underworld.

Today home secretary David Blunkett was expected to introduce a five-year minimum jail sentence for people caught carrying guns in the wake of the murders of two teenage girls in Birmingham.

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Police are continuing to hunt the killers of Charlene Ellis, 18, and her cousin Latisha Shakespear, 17,who died in a hail of bullets at a New Year party.

Former Suffolk Chief Constable Paul Scott-Lee, now in charge of the West Midlands force, is riding out the storm over the shootings.

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He is confident that those responsible will be brought to justice.

But while the politicians prepare to get tough on guns, the big question is how are the weapons getting into the country?

Felixstowe – already a major entry-point for huge quantities of drugs – is also one of the prime routes for gun-smugglers and their weapons trade.

Customs spokesman John Barber said officers regularly found guns inside containers searched at the port.

Some of them were collections or souvenirs being brought in without licences, but on other occasions the hauls were more suspicious and it could not be ruled out that these were bound for criminal activity.

Last year part of the port had to be evacuated after a cache of weapons was found in a car inside a container.

Anti-terrorist police sealed off Trinity Terminal after hand-held machine guns, Semtex and mortars were found.

No further details were released about the consignment and there has been much speculation over whether the weapons were destined for international terrorist groups or organised crime.

Mr Barber said: "We do regularly pick up firearms and have a specialist officer who deals with this issue.

"We also co-operate with other law enforcement agencies. Our main priority is Class A drugs, but in the course of our work we do come across other smuggled goods, and also gather intelligence and information on weapons."

The minimum five-year jail term for gun-carrying will be part of the new Criminal Justice Bill. The government is also considering a ban on replica guns, particularly those that could be adapted to fire live rounds.

The action comes as new figures on gun crime are to be released and expected to show a 20 per cent increase in firearm offences in England and Wales.

On Friday night there were fears of a gun incident on the streets of Ipswich after reports of a group of youths firing a weapon in the town centre.

Armed police traced the group and found one man in possession of a ball-bearing gun.

Police said today that no offences had been committed and the gun was not confiscated from its owner.

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