Official who sold arms was obeying orders

SENIOR CIVIL servants who drew up a secret plan to dispose of hundreds of thousands of ex-Ministry of Defence weapons are not to be disciplined for keeping the scheme from ministers.

The officials, who in effect changed government policy without referring to Parliament, will remain in their posts after the acquittal yesterday of a junior official who was charged with conspiracy to defraud the MoD because he followed their instructions. Robert Fenley, 49, was arrested in 1994, suspended from his post, and had to wait years before being charged. Yesterday, however, a jury at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court unanimously acquitted him after hearing that he was simply doing his job.

The case revolved around a real change in government policy when, in 1989, ministers agreed that old MoD weaponry could be sold to foreign governments in the same way - and under the same strict controls - as modern arms. Previously, they had been destroyed or dumped out at sea.

With the ending of the Cold War, large stocks of unwanted small arms and ammunition had built up at the armed forces depot at Donnington, Shropshire. However, attempts to sell them to foreign governments failed because much was old or obsolete, so civil servants unilaterally set about selling them to independent arms dealers.

Mr Fenley's job was to find buyers for 40,000 Second World War vintage Lee Enfield rifles, 56,000 self-loading rifles, and 10,000 Browning and Walther PPK pistols. He made contact with Robert Trem, a former RAF officer who exported diesel electric generator sets and old marine engines from his business in Doncaster, and persuaded him to buy some of the surplus.

Business burgeoned, with Mr Trem selling via a third-party to the north American gun-club fraternity, but the arrangement came unstuck when another dealer wrote to his MP, Sir Archie Hamilton, a former Tory minister for the armed forces, complaining that he had been unable to buy surplus weapons.

The prosecution alleged that Mr Fenley and Mr Trem had sewn up the business themselves, but suggestions that Mr Fenley benefited from the operation fell flat. The court was told that Mr Trem's hospitality towards the civil servant extended to four nights in a bed-and-breakfast hotel in 1993, costing pounds 250.

"It is hardly champagne and caviar ... hula hula girls on the beaches in Hawaii," said Geoffrey Cox, representing Mr Fenley. He added that there had been a "nod and a wink" attitude that "the policy is changing, but we are not going to tell anyone".

An MoD spokesman said the evidence in the case would be reviewed to see if there were lessons to be learnt. Other sources said it was "most unlikely" that any disciplinary action would be taken against officials who gave evidence in the court case.

Mr Fenley said: "I am elated. I can't believe it is all over because it has been such a big part of my life for so long."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)