James Arnold: Mystery of parish council chairman's gun haul
- 19 February 2016
- From the section Suffolk
Why did a parish council chairman amass the biggest collection of illegal weapons ever found in the UK? The man who supplied James Arnold has been sentenced to six years in jail, but Arnold himself died while on remand, leaving his motives a mystery.
Arnold was a popular figure in the village of Wyverstone, Suffolk, where a friend said he was "at the heart" of the 400-strong community.
Despite a well known interest in guns and the military, there was nothing to suggest he was more than simply an enthusiast. Police have confirmed he had no previous convictions.
In April 2014, however, a complaint of domestic assault was made against him. Officers sent to arrest him at his home were surprised to find firearms "strewn around the house".
A major search of the premises followed and four days later officers made an extraordinary discovery - a secret room containing a huge arsenal of weapons and explosives.
The room had been hidden behind a false wall covered in shelves and officers had to crawl through a 2ft x 2ft safe to gain access.
Inside they found 463 firearms, including an Uzi sub machine gun and an AK-47 assault rifle, plus 200,000 rounds of live ammunition, most of which was so volatile it had to be destroyed.
Arnold, who lived in the village with his wife and daughter and was known to friends as Jim, was a weapons enthusiast and held a firearms licence - but only for 17 items.
Once the haul was discovered, the crane driver, who previously worked as a farmhand, replied "no comment" to most questions put to him by police.
He was charged with four counts of possessing a prohibited weapon, and police say the number of counts would "almost certainly" have increased as the investigation progressed.
However, he died from pancreatic cancer just three months later at the age of 49, while on remand in the high-security HM Prison Belmarsh.
Officers say we will never know why he amassed the collection.
They found no evidence of a criminal motive and Arnold, who was born in Bristol before he moved to Suffolk as a child, had no criminal record.
Ch Supt David Skevington said his best guess was that Arnold was "a hoarder " who collected firearms "in the way some people collect stamps".
His colleague Det Supt Steve Mattin said he was "very set on the idea he was keeping people safe" by looking after the collection, and he "certainly didn't see himself as a danger to others".
But they feared his state of mind could have changed as his cancer progressed. There were enough weapons to arm nine coach-loads of terrorists if they had fallen into the wrong hands.
The collection is now due to be destroyed, with the exception of a few items that will be retained for their historical value and displayed in museums.
Arnold's interest in the military was well known in Wyverstone and he organised shoots on his land for fellow enthusiasts.
"He was part of a gun club which used antique weapons and dressed up in old soldiers' uniforms," according to neighbour Andy Mellen.
The 48-year-old took over as parish council chairman following Arnold's arrest. He has since stepped down but remains on the council and runs a community cafe. He said Arnold was "fairly quiet" but "played a big part in the community".
Wyverstone's residents are "confused and bewildered" as to why he needed quite so many weapons, he said.
"We have tried to move on but it is still a mystery to all of us exactly what was going on inside his head.
"He was at the heart of village life, that's why it was so shocking that he was stockpiling all these weapons.
"Nobody but Jim knows what was going on and sadly there are lots of questions that we will never be able to answer," he said.