The BBC’s File on 4 returns to the schedules with an investigation into the illicit arms trade.
File on 4 brought together a considerable amount of information for the programme. Although not especially revelatory in itself, the programme illustrates how impenetrable the illicit arms trade is. It also examines the UK regulatory system, asking how dealers get away with huge illicit trades despite strict regulations being in place.
Trade in weapons within the UK is regulated by the Home Office and export is regulated by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
File on 4 shows how the two can fail to communicate effectively, turning auditing and oversight into a bureaucratic mire. Arms traders exploit this and so in some cases are able to conduct their business out of sight of the regulators.
File on 4 uses the case of Gary Hyde to demonstrate this - one of the rare occasions when the illegal arms trade’s cloak of secrecy is twitched aside.
Hyde is currently serving seven years for brokering a foreign arms deal without a license. He seemed a legitimate arms trader in the UK, holding a Home Office permit to trade in automatic weapons inside the UK.
But he was also acting as a middle man for a trade between China and Nigeria, which shipped enough guns to ‘equip a small army’ – 70,000 assault rifles, 10,000 pistols and 32m rounds of ammunition. The trade was not and would never have been granted a UK export license. HMRC investigators eventually picked up on the deal.
The local constabulary, North Yorkshire Police, tried to contact the investigators after details of the trade emerged. But the investigators would not share any details of the case with the police according to the programme.
Deputy Chief Constable Andy Marsh of the Association of Chief Police Officers assured the programme that such information would have been taken into account when considering Hyde’s fitness to hold his UK permit, had it been known. But Hyde’s overseas activities were not reason to believe he was a danger to people in the UK, he asserted.
HMRC’s refusal to share information with the police meant Hyde continued to trade legally while under investigation. File on 4 reports his clients at that time included several English police forces and the Ministry of Defence.
It is not just intra-government communications that are lacking. Not nearly enough scrutiny goes into granting licenses, claims File on 4.
There appears to be a don’t ask, don’t tell attitude when it comes to granting a permit to trade in arms within the UK. A trader’s foreign activities are not taken into account, just their UK-based operations when a permit is granted.
As long as a dealer’s UK reputation is clean they can try to flaunt rules abroad, as in another case used in the programme – that of Michael Ranger. Despite being a well established UK arms dealer for 30 years and well known to UK authorities, he contrived to buy portable surface to air missiles from North Korea to sell on to Azerbaijan.
Ranger is currently serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for violating an arms embargo on Azerbaijan.
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