Three arrested as illegal gun factory uncovered at gearbox repair centre

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A “sophisticated” illegal gun factory has been discovered on the edge of a market town, the National Crime Agency said.

Investigators found what they believe to be a “large-scale” operation in a warehouse describing itself as a gearbox repair business on an industrial estate in Hailsham, East Sussex.

Officers arrested three men found leaving the building and had to use a Taser on one of them, an NCA spokesman said.

Two handguns and a “large quantity” of ammunition were found before a wider search of the premises revealed around 30 handguns in total, head of the NCA’s National Firearms Threat Centre Rob Hickinbottom said during a press conference at the site on Wednesday.

Mr Hickinbottom said the “significant” find included several guns in various stages of production and it was “rare” to find guns being manufactured in this manner.

He added: “It is extremely rare to find a gun factory producing using blueprints.”

It is believed the guns were being fired for testing when the shots were heard on Saturday, he said.

“Components used in the criminal manufacture of firearms and ammunition” like metal, blueprints and templates for guns as well as machinery were discovered, he added.

It is not yet known how long the factory had been operating or if guns had already been supplied and used in other offences.

National Crime Agency firearms raid
Rob Hickinbottom, head of the NCA’s Firearms Threat Centre, said the operation was both ‘dangerous’ to the public and those involved in the manufacturing as it was not professional or licensed (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He said: “Our investigation is continuing, and much of what we have discovered at this location will now be the subject of careful forensic analysis.

“We suspect this operation has disrupted a group that would appear to be involved in the criminal production of firearms.

“As a result, we have prevented a potentially large quantity of weapons from getting on to the black market and into the hands of criminals.”

The area has been sealed off while investigations – carried out by the NCA and Sussex Police – continue. Other locations, which have not been disclosed, have also been searched.

A NCA officer was injured during the raid but not seriously hurt, Mr Hickinbottom added.

Police find illegal gun factory
The industrial unit in Hailsham, East Sussex, where police discovered a ‘sophisticated’ illegal gun factory during a raid by the National Crime Agency at the weekend (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Kyle Wood, 30, of Gratwicke Drive, Littlehampton, was charged with the same offence as well as possessing ammunition.

The trio were remanded in custody and are due to appear at Kingston Crown Court on September 17.

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