The world may never know the full story behind why a former parish council chairman amassed the UK’s biggest ever illegal weapons hoard, according to Suffolk Police.
More than 400 firearms, hundreds of thousands of live ammunition rounds and many explosives were discovered at the home of James Arnold, 49, in Wyverstone, during an extended police raid in April 2014.
Arnold was never convicted, as he died from a terminal illness three months later whilst in custody, facing numerous charges, but there was some closure on the matter today, when the dealer who helped supply this collection was given a six-year prison term.
Anthony Buckland, 65, of Stoke Holy Cross in Norfolk, was sentenced at Norwich Crown Court this morning, having been found guilty of 20 offences relating to selling prohibited weapons and fraud by false representation.
However, at a recent press briefing for the raid which uncovered the haul - officially named Operation Cannington - senior officers said much of the knowledge about the firearms had gone with Arnold when he passed away.
Chief Superintendent David Skevington, Suffolk Constabulary County Policing Commander, said: “It is a really small rural community, so having something like this unfold really had an impact and it was completely out of kilter with the area.”
“I want to thank the community for their understanding and co-operation in carrying out what was an in-depth operation, and I want to thank the investigation team, who have worked tirelessly and shown great professionalism.”
The briefing detailed how this extraordinary sequence of events began, when police visited Arnold’s home in Potash Road on an unrelated matter - investigating an alleged assault.
They found a number of firearms strewn around the property, providing the spark for a major operation which would go on to last almost a month and cost Suffolk Constabulary a total of £260,000.
A total of 49 officers searched the house, outbuildings and surrounding land in shifts over the course of 27 days, with the help of the Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Defence and the National Crime Agency.
They discovered a vast, varied quantity of weapons, including a huge cache hidden in a secret room, accessible only by crawling through a passageway concealed by a false wall, and they carried out controlled explosions where necessary due to the volatility of some of the items.
Detective Superintendent Steve Mattin, Suffolk Constabulary Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Cannington, said: “It’s probably the biggest find of this type of weaponry in the UK.
“If you look at the viable weaponry and calibre of ammunition, you could arm yourself to be quite troublesome. You could start a small war.
“It’s no mean feat what the investigation team has done.”
In addition to the firearms and explosives, police also found a makeshift firing range in Arnold’s back garden, consisting of an eight-foot wall of railway sleepers, purpose built to fire any weapon.
Det Supt Mattin explained that in police interviews, Arnold claimed he was doing a public service, but otherwise responded “no comment” to most questions.
Detective Sergeant Neill Rumsey, who questioned Arnold at HMP Belmarsh shortly before his death, described Arnold as a “gun nut”.
“I think he saw himself as a public spirited individual who should keep the guns safe so they didn’t get into the hands of criminals,” said Det Sgt Rumsey.
“He felt he was doing the public a favour. He resented having to give them up,”
Subsequent investigations by the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) revealed no connections between Arnold’s weapons and any crime activity.
Martin Parker, Lead Forensic Scientist at NABIS, stated the entire collection was likely to have cost in the region of £100,000 to obtain.
He said: “It (the collection) is not typical of an arms dealer. He seemed like someone who was obsessed with collecting.
“The worrying thing is if someone became aware of it who has criminal intent.”
Records enabled police to trace some of these firearms back to Buckland, who had apparently known Arnold for more than 25 years and supplied him with a number of guns and ammunition, using a fabricated name on documentation.
But the origin of much of the collection is still unknown, and many of the weapons are now set to either be destroyed, or preserved for research or historic purposes.
Chief Superintendent Skevington said: “He (Arnold) was already charged with 25 offences, so he was never going to leave prison and he knew that.
“We had one opportunity and one chance to appeal to his conscience to tell us where the guns came from and why. Mr Arnold went to his grave with the answers in his head.”
Richard Kennett, Suffolk Constabulary Firearms Licensing Manager, stated the “vast majority of people” with firearms certificates were “good, honest, law-abiding people” and encouraged anyone who might illegally possess weapons to turn them in, with no action taken against them if they do so.
“We believe James Arnold’s life had deteriorated,” he said.
“There are items here that no private individual would be allowed to keep. If there was a burglary, they are in danger of falling into the wrong hands.”
He added: “We receive guns and ammunition all the time. We will not prosecute people for doing the right thing.”
BREAKDOWN OF THE DISCOVERED WEAPONS
In total, 463 firearms were seized from the property, comprising:
* 177 rifles (including M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles)
* 136 handguns (including 9mm Beretta and 9mm Cauco pistols)
* 88 shotguns (including a sawn-off pump-action Winchester)
* 38 machine guns (including an Uzi with bayonet attachment)
* 24 ‘miscellaneous’ weapons (including flare guns)
Also discovered in the raid was 200,000 rounds of live ammo, plus explosives such as:
* One light anti-tank weapon
* Detonation cord and detonators
* Booster charges and shaped charges
At the time of his arrest, James Arnold was only legally allowed to possess:
* Ten shotguns, permitted by a shotgun certificate (first issued in 1984)
* Seven firearms, permitted by a firearm certificate (first issued in 1986)