Police offer pounds 10,000 for firearms tip-offs: Confidential illegal-guns hotline targeted at drug dealers

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MEMBERS of the public are to be paid up to pounds 10,000 to inform on anyone they believe has an illegal firearm as part of a police crackdown on the growing availability of guns among criminals.

In the latest initiative against armed crime, the Metropolitan Police is asking people, including criminals, to provide tip-offs on a confidential telephone line.

The campaign is particularly aimed at drug dealers who are increasingly willing to use guns, said Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. At the launch of Operation Safety Catch, he said: 'On average, every day in London, one or two shots are fired from an illegal handgun. It is the public who are at risk.'

He added: '(This campaign) is about drug dealers who carry guns as fashion accessories and who are prepared to use them against each other, police officers and members of the public. It is about armed robbers carrying guns on buses who will put a gun against a conductor's head for just a few pounds. There are examples of innocent people, including youngsters, caught in the crossfire. In south London, a teenager was shot in crossfire and in another incident in north London a baby in a car was cut by flying glass.'

The move follows an upsurge in the number of incidents involving guns. Firearms offences in England and Wales rose from 9,502 in 1989 to 13,305 in 1992. In London, firearms were brandished 41 times and fired on 23 occasions in assaults on police officers in the past year. This compares with six the previous year.

Detectives estimate there are up to 5,000 firearms - mainly pistols, although some automatic weapons are beginning to appear - in the capital. Sir Paul has called for tougher laws to prevent criminals obtaining the weapons.

Police believe many of them are 'deactivated' guns from Eastern Europe reactivated once they enter Britain and often circulated through legitimate dealers. There is particular concern that guns have become commonplace among drug gangs - especially dealers in crack cocaine - which has resulted in an upsurge in shootings in London and Manchester.

Rewards will be paid to anyone calling the Metropolitan Police's Crimestoppers line with information about illegal firearms. Complete anonymity is guaranteed to the informant and any payment is delivered by an outside contractor.

The 24-hour Crimestoppers line is 0800 555111.