200 Army guns go missing

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More than 200 weapons belonging to the British military have been lost or stolen since 1997, it emerged today.

Tory MP Stephen Crabb urged the Government to "put its house in order", fearing the guns could end up being used by criminals.

The figure emerged as Lance Corporal James Piotrowski, from Birmingham, was jailed by a military court for handling a stolen assault rifle.

Mr Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Heaven forbid that a British Army firearm goes missing and ends up being used in an armed assault, armed robbery, or even murder.

"This is a Government that has put a great deal of emphasis on gun control. It basically shut down handgun competitions in this country in the wake of Dunblane.

"You would expect the Government to put its own house in order and ensure that its own weapons under the care of the Ministry of Defence are properly looked after."

Dr Peter Squires, a criminologist at Brighton University, told the programme that, with shotguns stolen from farms or converted or reactivated weapons, they could cause a "significant problem".

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said 167 weapons had been recovered since 1997 although there were no guarantees all of them were from the 200 that had gone missing.

She added: "Even one weapon going missing is serious and the armed forces would take it very seriously.

"But if you think about the number of weapons used in use on a daily basis, 200 is actually a tiny proportion.

"All of our personnel are given clear direction that weapons should never be left unattended or in the care of unauthorised people.

"When not in use they are always kept in secure stores. Only those who have a direct need are permitted access, and they are subject to security vetting."

Any loss is reported to civilian police and subject to a full investigation and a board of inquiry, the spokeswoman added.

It was understood that 30 of the weapons that went missing were antique rifles taken from the walls of officers messes while others would have included weapons accidentally dropped overboard from naval vessels into deep sea.