Weapons dealer devastated by police raid
A FIREARMS dealer said he was "devastated" to be accused and investigated by the police force he supplied with weapons.Richard Ashley, 57, said he felt his home had been "raped" by officers who seized his haul of firepower.
By Jonathan Barnes
A FIREARMS dealer said he was "devastated" to be accused and investigated by the police force he supplied with weapons.
Richard Ashley, 57, said he felt his home had been "raped" by officers who seized his haul of firepower.
The weapons expert, who had supplied arms to Suffolk police for 18 years, was speaking at his trial at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday.
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He is charged with five counts of possessing prohibited weapons, including riot guns and rocket launchers, without the permission of the Home Secretary.
Prosecutors claim that he held more prohibited weapons than he was allowed to keep on his firearms certificate.
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The court heard police raided his cottage in Fen Road, Pakenham, near Bury St Edmunds, in February 2001, as part of an investigation into illegal arms dealing.
Ashley said: "I was devastated. My wife and I came home to a wrecked house. My life was finished, my income was finished. I wasn't the happiest bunny."
He explained he was quizzed about 148 allegations of illegal deals, all of which he was able to prove were legal transactions.
"I was expecting the battalion joker to come through the door and say 'we had you going there'.
"I couldn't think of one illegal deal, I couldn't understand why this was going on. It was beyond me."
He added: "When your house has been raped by 40 people, you don't want to go back there ever again."
Ashley, a former armourer for Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, claims many of his handguns were antiques and accused police of assembling other guns from component parts.
He accused the force's firearms licensing manager, Richard Kennett, of assembling a Browning 9mm pistol and said he was "appalled" by his doing so.
The weapons expert insisted police had "total trust" in him during his work for the force. "I knew combinations of doors, I had alarm codes, I had carte blanche to come and go as I pleased," added Ashley, who is also a respected lecturer on terrorism issues and Northern Ireland.
He said many other guns in his possession were being held for people pending rulings on their firearms certificates and he had been asked to store others after they were seized by Customs or police.
He also explained his working relationship with Tony Slatter, the arms dealer who the defence has alleged was the true police target in the investigation. It has been claimed detectives stopped Ashley from trading to cut off a potential supply line to Mr Slatter.
Ashley said he had known Mr Slatter, of Cambridgeshire, for 25 years and had worked for him in the mid-90s.
He called his fellow dealer "a good friend" and said Mr Slatter did the paperwork while he concentrated on the mechanical side.
Under cross-examination by prosecution barrister Craig Rush, Ashley admitted he found some aspects of firearms law "impossible."
Mr Rush told the court that Ashley did briefly have the authority to possess weapons such as rocket launchers and mortars under section 5.1ae of the Firearms Act, but it had lapsed.
"Why not get rid of the weapons you had which fell into that category?" Mr Rush asked.
Ashley replied: "I bought them legally and kept them legally."
Mr Rush said: "And because you loved them?" Ashley said: "Yes."
"You wouldn't want to part with them?" Mr Rush added. "No sir," Ashley responded.
Mr Rush also accused Ashley of lying when he claimed that he did have permission from the Home Office to possess a Piad gun – a rocket or grenade launcher.
Ashley denied lying, adding: "The weapons I had were bought legally and kept legally. They were inspected every year for 20 years.
"For someone to turn round and say that I am guilty, I do not accept."