Thompson: bought guns online
Observer investigations editor Tony Thompson was in San Francisco this week working on a new exposÃ© on criminal gangs. But he is waiting to hear if he will face criminal charges after a police raid discovered guns at his London home.
Thompson was arrested and later bailed until January after 30 police officers in riot gear smashed down the door to his empty flat in an operation to recover illegal guns.
The police found an air pistol, another only capable of firing blank ammunition and a third that fired rubber bullets. All had been described in the Observer article and were kept under lock and key.
Thompson claims he bought the guns while following a story for The Observer , which was published last November and carried descriptions of the weapons. It was as a result of the article, headlined “Criminals dodge laws by buying stun guns on the net”, that the police visited his flat as part of a much larger operation to find the gun buyers.
Thompson is now waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide on whether he will be charged with possession of guns, which carries a five-year mandatory prison sentence The story centred around British criminals who were arming themselves with potentially lethal stun guns and CS gas sprays to avoid harsh sentences for possessing firearms and replica guns.
As the police searched the flat in Thompson’s absence, they found his mobile phone number and rang him to say they were there. Thompson’s first thought, say colleagues, was that they were there because there had been a break-in but, when he learned they had a search warrant, he returned to show them where the guns were and co-operated fully.
The police had traced him as a buyer of the guns from the database of French website, guns2.com, itself the subject of a raid, and had no idea he was a journalist.
Thompson, 38, was arrested and taken to Wembley police station where his credentials were established.
The police confiscated the guns which Thompson is believed to have retained while he worked on other stories.
An Observer spokesperson said: “We can confirm that an Observer journalist was questioned by police and released on bail, without charge, in connection with an Observer investigation into criminals buying illegal stun guns on the internet. This was a story of enormous public interest which has now been followed by a major police operation.”
By Jean Morgan