Three held over firearms smuggled on Dover ferry

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A security alert that left thousands of ferry passengers stranded at sea for several hours has turned out not to be terrorist related, police said last night.

A security alert that left thousands of ferry passengers stranded at sea for several hours has turned out not to be terrorist related, police said last night.

Kent Police said three men questioned over the discovery of banned weapons, including firearms, in a car at the Port of Dover on Friday night were now part of a "criminal investigation".

The men, all confirmed as British, were originally arrested under the Terrorism Act, but were continuing to be held in custody in connection with "serious firearms offences and the possession of prohibited weapons".

A police spokeswoman said: "Permission has been given to further detain these three British nationals."

The apparent downgrading of the probe is likely to raise further questions about the need to close the port for more than seven hours, plunging the area into chaos.

An alarm was raised on Friday at about 7.20pm when customs officers found what they believed to be a suspect package in the car. An Army bomb disposal squad was called to investigate.

An exclusion zone was set up and the port came to a standstill with traffic travelling into Dover backing up, causing gridlock in the town centre.

At the height of the alert, 14 ferries were delayed, four inside the port and 10 in the Channel between Calais and Dover, according to Dover Harbour Board.

The exclusion zone was lifted at 2.40am yesterday, but traffic was already stretching back about two miles on the M20 motorway.

Customs and police are becoming more concerned about the rise in arms being smuggled into Britain, especially from Eastern Europe, by organised crime gangs.

Customs sources said arsenals of hand grenades, machine guns and Semtex explosives have been seized at ports by Customs and Excise in a recent wave of smuggling.

A total of 111 machine guns and rifles were seized in British ports by Customs in the year ending March 2002. This was up from 48 the year before. Shotgun seizures rose to 219 from 44. In some cases, these weapons were destined for drug gangs, including a notorious south London crime family and Turkish heroin gangs in north London.

Perhaps the most frightening discovery was that of 17 hand-grenade detonators, two packs of explosives, 10 handguns, three machine pistols and ammunition found in a car in a container at Felixstowe docks in April 2002.

Police sources say that the surge in arms smuggling is driven by drug gangs that are increasing their firepower to cope with ever more violent turf wars.