Police discover 'sophisticated' illegal gun factory in industrial estate warehouse

A "sophisticated illegal gun factory" has been discovered by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers at a gearbox repair business on an industrial estate in Hailsham, East Sussex.

Police heard "loud bangs consistent with gun shots" when they arrived at the warehouse in Diplocks Way on Saturday and arrested three men leaving the building.

A Taser had to be used on one of them, an NCA spokesman said.

Officers found two handguns and a wider search uncovered 30 other firearms in various stages of production along with a large quantity of ammunition, the NCA said.

"Components used in the criminal manufacture of firearms and ammunition” like metal, blueprints and templates for guns, as well as machinery, were discovered, Rob Hickinbottom of the NCA's National Firearms Threat Centre said.

Business owners based in nearby units told of their surprise at the discovery.

John Saunders, who runs Wealden Installations Ltd, said he arrived to open up at 7am on Monday to find the small corner of the Diplocks industrial estate "packed with police".

The illegal gun factory was discovered at the Diplocks Industrial Estate. Credit: PA

"There were armed police watching it," Mr Saunders said.

“When I learnt what had been found it really surprised me.

“We never saw anything suspicious. It was just a normal business near ours.”

A 41-year-old man, who did not want to be named, said that he had fitted gearboxes for the workshop.

He said: “It was just a normal set-up. I never saw anything unusual.

“It is a complete surprise to hear what was found in this area. Hailsham is a quiet town.

“They supplied the gearboxes and I supplied the time. I worked with the business for about 18 months.”

The inside of the alleged gun factory Credit: National Crime Agency/PA

Mr Hickinbottom said it was “rare” to find guns being manufactured in this manner.

He added: “Normally the production is on a smaller scale than the scale we have seen over the last few days.

“It is extremely rare to find a gun factory producing, using blueprints.”

It is believed the guns were being fired for testing when the shots were heard on Saturday, he said.

An NCA officer was injured during the raid but not seriously hurt, Mr Hickinbottom added.

It is not yet known how long the suspected factory had been operating or if guns had already been supplied and used in other offences.

But Mr Hickinbottom said the operation was both “dangerous” to the public and those involved in the manufacturing as it was not a professional or licensed outfit.

He said: “The problem we have at the moment is determining just how long [the outfit] has been producing the weapons.

“We suspect this operation has disrupted a group that would appear to be involved in the criminal production of firearms.

“As a result, we have prevented a potentially large quantity of weapons from getting on to the black market and into the hands of criminals.”

The area has been sealed off while investigations, carried out by the NCA and Sussex Police, continue.

Other locations, which have not been disclosed, have also been searched.

Greg Akehurst, 29, of no fixed address, and Mark Kinman, 63, of Bramwell Mews, Hailsham, were both charged with possessing a firearm.

Kyle Wood, 30, of Gratwicke Drive, Littlehampton,was charged with the same offence as well as possessing ammunition.

They were remanded in custody and are due to appear at Kingston Crown Court on September 17.