Stolen military hardware being sold-off on eBay

MoD police fear weapons and hi-tech kit could end up in the hands of gangs, or even terrorists

A military police team is trawling internet auction sites to catch thieves trying to sell stolen defence equipment online. The widespread theft of uniform, weapons and tools is costing at least £50,000 a month, and much of it ends up on sites such as eBay.

Last year, Operation Embroil, the military police team monitoring sites such as eBay, discovered 107 cases where military kit was being sold illegally online. According to latest figures, 17 additional cases have arisen since the start of the year.

Whitehall sources say ministers fear some of the most dangerous equipment could fall into the hands of organised criminal gangs and terrorists. Military items available to buy on eBay this weekend include gas masks, antenna kits, rucksacks, body armour, flight helmets and vests, night vision goggles and global positioning equipment. One problem for investigators is identifying which items are commercially available, and which could only have come from Ministry of Defence supplies.

Last year, the MoD referred 361 reported thefts to police. Ministers have admitted that "in many cases a suspected perpetrator is not identified or there is insufficient evidence to pursue a prosecution". A list of almost 600 items stolen between March 2011 and January 2012 included catalytic converters worth £32,000, tools worth £35,000, radio equipment costing £15,000, night vision goggles worth up to £4,000, generators worth more than £7,000 and weapons sights valued at more than £8,000. Other items included laptops, radios, ceremonial swords helmets, sheds shoes, an X-Box 360 and a dinghy.

Luciana Berger, the Labour MP who obtained the details of the thefts, said: "I couldn't believe the amount of stuff that could be stolen across MoD sites. Put together it could be used to cause some serious damage... when money needs to be put on the frontline, the MoD needs to do more to stop stuff going missing in the first pace, before it ends up on eBay."

Since 2008, Operation Embroil has arrested 70 people, of whom 15 were successfully prosecuted, 17 cautioned and a number referred for Service disciplinary procedures.

An MoD spokesperson said: "Our frontline forces deserve the best possible kit, and action will be taken against those who deprive them of that. That is why we have successfully targeted the internet sale of MoD equipment.... By the end of 2010 it was estimated [we had] recovered and prevented theft worth more than £1.3m."

A former paratrooper, Warrant Officer Allan Peet, was given a 10-month prison sentence in 2010 for handling stolen MoD equipment and selling it on eBay. Items included day sacks and military issue footwear, hydration systems and ration packs, which he sold for a total of £6,500.

In 2009, three men were jailed for a total of 10 years for their part in a plot to sell components of an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet to Iran, after sourcing the parts from eBay.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...