Police winning war on BB guns

By Danielle NuttallCrime CorrespondentPOLICE chiefs are winning the war against misuse of BB guns thanks to tough new laws – but they warned the threat from real firearms remained high.

By Danielle Nuttall

Crime Correspondent

POLICE chiefs are winning the war against misuse of BB guns thanks to tough new laws - but they warned the threat from real firearms remained high.

Inspector Clive Benneworth, head of Suffolk police's firearms and support training, said there had been a dramatic drop in the number of young people reported brandishing potentially-lethal ball-bearing (BB) guns, thanks to new legislation.

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But in the past 12 months there have also been a number of incidents where loaded firearms and live ammunition have been found in the county - highlighting the dangers that still exists.

Latest figures showed that Suffolk police's firearms unit took part in 89 operations between April and September, compared to 126 in the same period last year.

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Only 13 of the incidents related to BB guns or replica firearms, compared to 26 the same time last year - a 50% reduction.

Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, it is an offence to possess an unloaded air weapon or imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or excuse.

The Government has also increased the maximum tariff for anyone found in possession of a gun without a licence to five years in jail.

Insp Benneworth said: "We are pleased with the reduction. We think the Government's initiatives have made an impact. Members of the public are being more responsible in relation to the display of imitation firearms in a public place.

"But some of the replicas have been converted to fire live rounds. Where shotguns have been recovered from criminals, more often than not they were found with ammunition with them. The real things are still out there."

He added: "Drugs continue to cause us problems and on occasions we do come into contact with individuals who carry firearms while carrying out their dealings in drugs. That's a well-known fact. If that happens, you have to send the appropriate response.

"That clearly reinforces the view that police officers need to treat all incidents involving firearms with appropriate care. We have to respond to every single incident as if it was the real thing."

As part of the changes, a nationwide amnesty was held to encourage people to dispose of unwanted guns and ammunition before it became law, which saw thousands of weapons handed into police in Suffolk.

Insp Benneworth recalled one incident in Suffolk in which a member of staff at a supermarket was convinced an armed robbery was about to take place after spotting a BB gun being brandished by youths outside.

"That's a prime example of an incident which prompts an armed response. The young individuals were arrested," he added.

"That's exactly what the Anti-Social Behaviour Act was brought in to stop. Obviously there is still a long way to go. We would urge members of the public to be very responsible."

Anyone with information about the improper use of firearms can contact Suffolk police on 01473 613500.

n Drugs are harder to find on the streets of Ipswich today after a huge police crackdown on the town's criminal underworld.

Operation Taurus has seen the successful prosecution of 26 people, who are now serving a total of 75 years behind bars.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cole, of Suffolk police, said: "Operation Taurus has been a considerable and notable success. While not eradicating the class A drug problems in Ipswich, it has made considerable inroads into the disruption of such activities.

"Intelligence from a variety of sources suggests this operation has had a significant effect on the drug-dealing scene in Ipswich, with considerable disruption to availability.

"However, the nature of drug dealing does mean there are always new dealers seeking to move into this particular market. We'll make sure our enforcement continues at a pace."

The operation, which cost £100,000, saw more than 85 officers carry out a series of raids in and around Ipswich between January and April. Quantities of crack cocaine and heroin were found during the searches and almost £3,500 seized.


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