Gunsmith not police target, court told

A RESPECTED gunsmith and firearms expert was targeted by police in a bid to bring down an "untouchable" weapons dealer, a court heard.Richard Ashley, 57, Pakenham, took to the witness stand at Ipswich Crown Court for the first time in his trial yesterday, as his defence team began their case.

A RESPECTED gunsmith and firearms expert was targeted by police in a bid to bring down an "untouchable" weapons dealer, a court heard.

Richard Ashley, 57, Pakenham, took to the witness stand at Ipswich Crown Court for the first time in his trial yesterday, as his defence team began their case.

Ashley, who was employed as an armourer by Suffolk and Norfolk police, denies five charges of possessing prohibited weapons without the authority of the Home Secretary.

While the prosecution accepts Ashley is a licensed arms dealer and expert, they claim he had more firearms than permitted, as well as weapons he was not allowed to keep.


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His house was raided in February 2001, after months of investigation into arms dealing by customs and police officers.

But, opening the defence case, barrister Martyn Levett suggested to the court that the real police target was a firearms dealer from Cambridgeshire, who had dealt with Ashley, and was described as an "Al Capone" figure.

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Mr Levett told the court that dealer had never been successfully prosecuted despite police concerns that he was exporting weapons illegally.

Mr Levett told the court that some of the alleged illegal weapons which Ashley is accused of possessing had actually been put together from parts by the police.

"I can't tell you whether it was through a motive or incompetence, but there is no doubt that there were weapons which were not fully assembled in his armoury," he said.

"No-one realised the significance of that at the time. It was only when it transpired that there was no evidence of any crimes being committed that these particular charges were brought."

Mr Levett also spoke of a divide between the "old school and the new" in the police force, and suggested officers may have wanted to "sweep out" old habits and practices.

"Mr Ashley is from a different age," he said. "It could be said they threw the mould away when he was born and I doubt very much if there are people like him around today.

"He is prepared to offer his skills and knowledge to fight terrorism and crime – if there weren't people like him then you and I would be at risk.

"You must decide for yourselves whether he is a devious liar or just a decent honest human being who has gone through his life in a rather niche area of interest which you or I might never hear of."

On the witness stand, Ashley told the court how he had been interested in firearms from the age of eight, and regularly gave lectures to the armed forces about terrorism and weapons.

He described his work as "a rolling conservation" he was very proud of and which had taken 50 years of hard work to collect.

Looking at police photographs of his collection after weapons had been taken, he said: "It's a disgrace."

n During yesterday's hearing, Judge David Goodin directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict on Ashley on a charge of possessing a grenade launcher.

But Ashley was then arraigned on a further charge of possessing a Piad gun – a grenade or rocket launcher – to which he pleaded not guilty.

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