Crack dealers smuggling guns

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INCREASING numbers of black-market firearms are being smuggled into Britain from the US by crack dealers, a senior detective has warned.

Commander Roy Penrose, head of the South-east Regional Crime Squad, said the increase in weaponry available for sale or rent to criminals was 'of direct relevance' to the increase in crack houses in London and elsewhere.

'There has been an increase in the number of firearms available on the black market. Without having a 'fortress Britain' policy, we cannot keep them all out.' He said the situation was 'hellishly worrying' and was concerned that his officers had to face firearms almost every day.

Mr Penrose was speaking at a press conference to mark the first year of operation of the 600-strong squad, which polices 24 million people. It has arrested 1,100 suspects, seized pounds 133m worth of illegal drugs and pounds 13m of counterfeit currency, and recovered pounds 13m of stolen property. In the squad's first five months it has been involved in 24 operations to recover black-market firearms. Intelligence reports say there has been an increase in the number of dealers selling weapons for cash and underworld armourers who rent them to 'use and return'.

Many came from the US. He cited one case of a legitimate dealer in Kent who had become involved with black-market dealers in Phoenix, Arizona, and the guns he had imported had been used in murders and other serious crimes in the US. There was also continuing concern about the increasing number of weapons from the former Warsaw Pact countries as military forces disbanded. Scandinavian police had reported that an entire regiment of former Soviet troops in the Baltic area had sold their semi-automatic assault rifles for cash.

The Association of Chief Police Officers will meet today to discuss what steps can be taken over the arming of officers and ways to protect them. The display of sidearms by police in armed-response vehicles is one measure likely to be sanctioned.