Bullet-proof firm fined for selling to MoD

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The Independent Online

A firm that provided bullet-proof vests to UK government workers in war-torn Iraq and Afghan- istan has been fined after being caught by Revenue & Customs exporting the kit without the proper licences.

The City Magistrates Court in London fined Vestguard, of Essex, £10,000 for sending £128,130 worth of Level 4 vests - strong enough to stop AK-47 armour-piercing rounds - to the war zones. They had been ordered to protect workers, mostly stationed in Iraq, who were employed by the UK government, computer and telecommunication firms. They were also supplied to the US Marine Corps.

The company sent 15 orders of vests, some of them on urgent request, over a six-month period in late 2004, as government employees and private contractors found themselves caught in the crossfire in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chief executive Shaun Smithy-Ward, who said the missing licences were due to a clerical oversight by one of his 29 employees, was thankful the fine was so light. The potential penalty of up to three times the value of the goods, or more than £380,000, "would have put us out of business", he said.

But Major General Alan Sharman of the Defence Manufacturers Association, the arms industry trade group, was upset by the case: "This is where things get a bit cock-eyed ... These are not bombs [they are exporting]."

He likened it to the treatment of crime. "With a limited amount of resources, would we rather have them catching people breaking [the speed limit] or the bad guys breaking into homes and raping people?"

Indeed, the Government had previously come under fire for not equipping soldiers and other workers in Iraq adequately.

"We realised we could have blown it up into a larger issue about the supplying of body armour to British troops, but we decided it wasn't in anyone's interests to do that business-wise," said Mr Smithy-Ward.

Vestguard continues to supply the UK government.