British troops 'plotted to sell guns from Iraq'

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The Independent Online

British soldiers in Iraq plotted to smuggle pistols out of Iraq and sell them for cash, a court martial was told yesterday. Four soldiers have pleaded guilty to charges linked to the alleged plot.

Col Nigel Jones, for the prosecution, told the court martial that L/Cpl Michael White and L/Cpl Anthony Creswick - who face proceedings next year - planned a "business arrangement" which involved buying freely-available guns in Iraq and selling them to colleagues at the battalion base in Germany.

"They were going to buy small arms, specifically pistols, from various black market sources, that they would then arrange, along with third parties also in the battalion, to effectively smuggle these weapons on or in battalion vehicles back to the unit's base," Col Jones said . "They were then simply going to sell these pistols and sell that ammunition to other members of their unit.

"The motive for undertaking this arrangement was simple, said Col Jones: money. "They realised pistols and other small arms could be bought easily in Iraq. Availability in Germany was not so easy, therefore they could make a tidy profit."

The panel heard the two NCOs originally intended to deal in Glock pistols which had been issued in large numbers to the Iraqi police force and armed forces. But they were "thwarted" and turned their attention to "less desirable" small arms, Col Jones said.

L/Cpl Ross Phillips and Pte Shane Pleasant admitted possession of a prohibited pistol yesterday before the military court at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire. L/Cpl Ben Whitfield and Pte Robert Marlow both admitted an offence of trying to pervert the course of justice. The soldiers, from the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of Wellington's Regiment) committed the offences last year.

The court martial heard L/Cpl Phillips bought a handgun from White for €600 (£400). The gun was an imitation weapon that had been converted to fire live ammunition and handmade rounds were found with it.

According to Col Jones, L/Cpl Phillips told Army investigators that he bought the gun when he was having personal problems because another soldier had been having an affair with his fiancee while on leave from Iraq. But he would not elaborate to the military police about what he planned to do with the weapon.

When arrested, his roommate at the barracks, L/Cpl Whitfield, "panicked" and decided to hide the gun. Another soldier, L/Cpl Shaun Campbell, was due to appear yesterday but will be dealt with next year.