Dealer haunted by `trauma' of Customs raid

Wrongful arms prosecution: Businessman seeks compensation and action against diplomats who denied him a fair trial
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The Independent Online

Westminster Correspondent

At his home in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, yesterday Reginald Dunk was sanguine about the news that the Home Office has accepted he was wrongfully prosecuted 11 years ago for attempting to smuggle 200 Sterling sub-machine guns to Iraq via Jordan in defiance of an embargo, and that senior diplomats may now face prosecution for denying him a fair trial.

He said that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, had still to accept his much larger claim for compensation for his company which was almost wiped out by his conviction, and there is always the possibility that the diplomats concerned may not be prosecuted if the Crown Prosecution Service decides it would not be in the public interest.

Mr Dunk believes the fact that it all happened such a long time ago and the obvious sensitivity of the matter might yet rule in the diplomats' favour, although he cannot not see why. "If they are people who abused the process of law they should be prosecuted shouldn't they? What is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander," he said.

Now 76, Mr Dunk says that he will never forget the trauma of the events of 1983 when Customs and Excise officers simultaneously raided his house and office in Mansfield, his daughter's home in London, his son's house in Guildford, Surrey, and his accountant's offices in West Yorkshire. Alexander Schlesinger, a consultant to Atlantic Commercial, Mr Dunk's company, and executors from the gun manufacturer, Sterling Armament Company, also had their homes and offices raided.

Mr Dunk estimates that the operation must have cost the taxpayer about pounds 50,000. Seven officers visited just his house and searched it from top to bottom, including rummaging through his wife's wardrobe.

His son, who knew nothing about the Jordan deal, was taken from his house in Surrey to the Customs Interrogation Unit in London, where he was detained overnight.

Despite his possession of a valid export licence from the Department of Trade and Industry and although he was able to produce assurances from the Iraqi Embassy in London that the guns were not for Iraq but were a gift from Iraq to the Jordanian army, Mr Dunk's prosecution went ahead.

He was confident he had done nothing wrong and pleaded not guilty. But when his lawyer tried to take statements from Iraqi and Jordanian embassy staff in London he received a setback. The solicitor was told the authority for them to appear in his defence had been withdrawn. Unknown to Mr Dunk, the Iraqi and Jordanian ambassadors had been leant on by the Foreign Office.

Customs did not believe the claim that the guns were a gift and were not intended for Iraq, and was determined to secure a conviction. Its officers had asked the Foreign Office to persuade the Iraqi and Jordanian diplomats not to appear.

Without corroboration of his story Mr Dunk had no choice but to change his plea. In 1985, at the Old Bailey he pleaded guilty and was fined pounds 20,000. It was only when the Scott arms-to-Iraq inquiry looked behind the prosecution that the truth, and details of the behaviour of Patrick Nixon and Carsten Pigott - then desk officers at the Foreign Office in London - came out. In July 1994, Mr Dunk's conviction and that of Mr Schlesinger were overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Dunk said that it was only then that his business started to recover. "From February 1983, when Customs carried out their raid, until July 1994, when we won our appeal, the business was virtually non-existent. Not only was it not profitable, but I had to sacrifice almost all my life-savings to keep the company afloat - savings which had been earmarked as a supplement to my state pension," he said.

What had been a thriving business had been reduced by the end of 1993 to a virtual shell with no employees and no customers. Mr Dunk carried on trying to secure orders, "in the hope that eventually people would forget we were convicted criminals".

It was a vain hope; clients such as British Aerospace and Vickers had long since ceased to associate with him. When he won his appeal, business started to return and his once-desperate company is back in profit again. However, the damage over the years has been considerable and not only financial.

"My health and that of my wife has suffered enormously as a direct result of the worry and stress of the last 11 years," Mr Dunk said. "Aged 76, I am also no longer able to forecast when I shall be able to retire."

Even though the Home Office has accepted his compensation claim, he is not expecting miracles. He has yet to receive a penny and the Government is still refusing to acknowledge the loss to his company.

Lawrence Kormonick, Mr Dunk's solicitor, said yesterday: "He would like to see those responsible have to go through what he went through. He feels given what happened it would be in the interests of justice for those people to be treated as any others."