A parish chairman had amassed enough illegal weaponry to start a ‘small war’ with a total of 463 firearms including machine guns, rifles, shaped explosive charges and even an anti-tank rocket launcher.
The full extent of the largest illegal gun haul in UK history, discovered at the home of James Arnold in Wyverstone, can now been revealed after the sentencing of Norfolk firearms dealer Anthony Buckland who supplied him with some of the weapons.
As well as hundreds of firearms, Police unearthed around 200,000 rounds of live ammunition at Arnold’s home weighing more than a tonne.
Arnold died of cancer in prison while awaiting his trial.
On April 13, 2014, police were called to reports of an assault at a home on Potash Way.
Arnold, who was legally registered to own 17 firearms at his home, was arrested after officers spotted guns strewn about his home triggering a major search of the property – later called Operation Cannington.
But it was four days later, when police realised the footprint of the outside of the home didn’t match the inside, that a shocking discovery was made.
A false wooden set of shelves in a utility room secured with a large metal bolt revealed a 2ft by 2ft safe door.
Shining a light though the hole, officers found it led to a secret hidden room later known as ‘Room 20’, packed with weaponry.
Officers formed a chain to seize guns, recording and tagging each firearm as they went.
Suffolk Police have now revealed the details of the massive illegal cache, recognised as the biggest ever discovered in the UK.
Arnold had amassed 177 rifles, 136 handguns, 88 shotguns, 38 machine guns and 24 ‘miscellaneous’ weapons such as flare guns.
Among the firearms, police also discovered a light anti-tank weapon, 1,000ft of explosive detonation cord, detonators, booster charges and shaped explosive charges.
Steve Mattin, Suffolk Constabulary Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Cannington: “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.”
The range of the weapons discovered was vast, from antique muskets to Uzi submachine guns.
The haul included the gangster’s favourite Thompson submachine gun also known as the ‘Tommy Gun’, an M16 US Military rifle, a Bren light machine gun, a 0.50 calibre machinegun, AK-47 assault rifles, Berretta, Cauco and Mauser handguns and a range of pump-action and sawn-off shotguns.
Martin Parker, Lead Forensic Scientist at UK’s National Ballistic Intelligence Service (NABIS) said the weapons would have cost a huge amount of money.
“You are talking thousands and thousands of pounds,” he said, “You are probably talking in the £100,000 region.”
Arnold had also built a makeshift firing range in his back garden, an 8ft wall of railway sleepers that stretched down one side of his land.
Detective Sergeant Neill Rumsey, said: “The sleepers were purpose built to fire any weapon.”
A total of 49 police officers worked in three shift patterns from April 17 to May 9 to fully search the house and grounds as part of Operation Cannington.
The operation included help from the Metropolitan Police, Ministry of Defence, the National Ballistics Intelligence Service, the National Crime Agency and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit.
Samples of some of the explosives found in the house were examined at the Forensic Explosives Laboratory but many of the substances were so volatile and dangerous they had to be destroyed in controlled explosions at the scene.
The cost of the investigation eventually reached £260,000.
On April 19, 2014, Arnold was charged with four counts of possession of a prohibited weapon and made his first court appearance at South East Magistrates on April 21.
A case was prepared by the Crown Prosecution service and it was expected he would face further charges for the illegal possession of another 20 firearms, ammunition and fives types of explosives.
However, the case never came to court as Arnold died at HMP Belmarsh on July 14, 2014, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Two days after Arnold’s arrest, Norfolk firearms dealer Anthony Buckland, 65, of Mill Road, Stoke Holy Cross, was arrested on suspicion of selling or transferring a firearm to a person without a certificate.
Today he was sentenced to six years in prison having been found guilty on Friday December 18, 2015, of 11 counts of selling a prohibited weapon.
Where did the guns come from and why did Arnold have them?
Police say we may never know the full reason why Arnold amassed such a huge collection of weapons as he gave up little to police when interviewed.
Arnold said ‘no comment’ to the majority of their questions.
Detective Sergeant Neill Rumsey, who interviewed Arnold shortly before his death, described the parish chairman as a ‘gun nut’.
He said: “The purpose of the interview was to try and establish where the weapons had come from.
“He said he wanted to keep the guns off the streets and they were there for safekeeping, a public service.
“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.
“He resented having to give them up.
“He didn’t like the new laws after Dunblane and alluded to the fact that as the legislation had changed, why should he give up guns he got prior to that change.
“I think he liked the fact he had that control and could keep the knowledge with him and take that to his grave.”
Chief Superintendent Skevington said: “By then he was already charged with 25 offences including the explosives so 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.
“It is almost that you feel there is this hoarder type situation. You didn’t get the feeling of a lone wolf.
“He kept what he did in his home to himself.
“Mr Arnold went to his grave with the answers in his head”