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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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BBC documentary lifts lid on Lincolnshire weapons facility

BBC Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (tonight on BBC One, 7.30-8.00pm), has lifted the lid on a secretive Lincolnshire facility that's been storing tens of thousands of weapons that have been at the centre of concerns from human rights groups and MPs.

The former RAF base at Faldingworth near Market Rasen was once the home for Britain's nuclear weapons – but in recent years it's been the subject of complaints from residents about noise and nuisance following a series of planned explosions at the base.

Monday's programme will reveal that there's been more happening at the base than local residents have been told.

Amnesty International has told the programme that in July 2005 the base took delivery of a cargo of more than 70,000 Kalashnikovs from Bosnia – weapons that were due to be moved on to arm security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But one investigator who worked for Amnesty has said that the weapons that came into the UK were never counted. The investigator, who has asked to remain anonymous, tells the programme:

"Over the course of an 18-month investigation, we compiled literally thousands of documents to prove that more than 78,000 Kalashnikovs were imported into the United Kingdom and that when these weapons were brought in by ship nobody counted the weapons to check how many were really brought into the country. This was an unusual shipment."

The paperwork shows the weapons were brought into the UK for a Nottingham-based company – Procurement Management Services – but the deal was facilitated by a Yorkshire gun dealer, Gary Hyde, who's a director of York Guns Ltd, of Dunnington near York. Mr Hyde has denied being involved in the deal – but has admitted it was done with the full permission of the British authorities.

However, a committee of MPs has spent the last three years trying to get to the bottom of what happened to the Kalashnikov shipment from Bosnia.

One member of the committee, Leeds West MP John Battle, says: "I'm not sure I know, or our committee knows, where they've gone at all... not had any reports back about what's happened to material that's come out of that conflict. Is there a bonfire somewhere in Britain? Because I've not seen one. Or are they shared round and re-exported? I think it's that end of the deal that I think is still shrouded in mystery, frankly, and dangerous mystery."

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told Inside Out that the UK's import and export controls are both rigorous and strong.

The Faldingworth site is run by a company called Skydock. Its owner Richard Briggs has told the BBC that the facility is fully licensed and is involved in the transhipment of weapons. He refused to reveal details of specific clients who use the base.

Amnesty International's Oliver Sprague says: "The best way of describing it is that it's a complete mess. There was not the proper government oversight into the process at any stage – from importation to verification.

"There's countless anecdotal evidence that guns are being handed out to people that haven't been properly trained, haven't checked who they are and it's been a bit of a free for all.

"Those weapons may have ended up in the hands of the insurgency because there haven't been proper procedures in place to ensure that they're given out to the right people."

Inside Out also uncovers serious concerns about the Faldingworth base's safety status. Due to the amount of explosives stored there, the base is a top-tier COMAH site (Control of Major Accidents and Hazards). The base has to produce its own safety report – and the programme has learnt that the Health and Safety Executive have asked for it to be rewritten.

One independent health and safety expert – Dr Ivan Vince – said the Faldingworth report ranked amongst the worst he'd seen.

The owner of Skydock admitted that he'd been asked to revise his report – but said the changes weren't serious in nature. He told the BBC there had been no notifiable incidents at the base in the last 10 years.

Meanwhile, residents living close to the base have expressed their anxiety. One, Kevin Washington, said: "I don't really want this on my doorstep and I think anyone else who lives in rural Lincolnshire and knew what was going on wouldn't want it on their doorstep either."

BBC Inside Out is on BBC One Yorkshire & Lincolnshire on Monday 19 October, 7.30-8.00pm.


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