Eight people questioned after armed police discover cache of firearms during raid at boat site

A decrepit boat mooring site is thought to have been used as the hub for an international smuggling operation

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The Independent Online

Eight people are being questioned after armed police discovered a cache of firearms during a raid at a decrepit boat mooring site thought to have been used as the hub for an international smuggling operation.

Witnesses said that officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) surrounded two small houseboats and a cabin cruiser docked at the side of the River Medway at Halling, Kent, as part of an investigation into suspected arms smuggling from mainland Europe.

Three men and a woman were arrested by the riverside while four other people were arrested in separate operations in Orpington and Swanley, also in Kent. The River Medway feeds into the Thames Estuary and provides easy access to marinas on the North European coast, easily navigable in a 35ft cabin cruiser, according to experts with knowledge of the waterways.

The NCA said only that it had found “a number of potentially workable firearms and ammunition” at the secluded riverside spot, sandwiched between two quiet private marinas. The arms had been sent for forensic tests, it said. Detectives were continuing to question the eight, aged between 24 and 58, last night as part of its investigation into the “criminal use of firearms”.

One of the boats was towed away while detectives from the agency removed evidence from the two remaining boats in plastic bags. One of the boats had a pushchair on board and neighbours said that a family had been living there.

 

The mooring site had only been in operation for several months, according to locals, who said that it was being run by two men who were allowed to use the mooring for free in return for managing the site. The area had received little attention from the authorities until a tugboat moored close by sunk about three weeks ago, it is understood.

The site, which can only be reached down a barely noticeable rutted and narrow track, was within a few minutes of a motorway into London. Witnesses said that even a police team involved in the operation turned up at the wrong marina. Boat owners said that the moorings were not part of an established marina and would have been unlikely to have received regular visits from police and customs.

The landing site used to be connected by underground railway to a nearby quarry that fell into disuse nearly 100 years ago. The owners were believed to be planning to turn the site into a private marina because of shortages of mooring sites in the area.

One of the directors of the company that owns the site was believed to be in Spain and unaware of the police operation. He was unavailable for comment.

The NCA’s risk assessment of serious and organised crime for 2015 said that handguns and shotguns remained the two most favoured firearm for the criminal, but submachine guns were also being used.

It reported an increased threat of Skorpion submachine guns destined for urban street gangs in south-east England. A court heard earlier this year how a jailed criminal organised the shipment of Skorpions via Parcelforce using a smartphone smuggled into his cell at Wandsworth, southeast London.

Firearms continue to enter the criminal market via the postal system, thefts from legitimate dealers, online sales, at militaria fairs and through criminal contacts, said the NCA. The United States remains the source for more than a half of all firearms seized at the UK border, while smugglers were exploiting the free travel area between the UK and Ireland to bring in arms, the assessment said.