A military police team is trawling internet auction sites to catch thieves trying to sell stolen defence equipment online. The widespread theft of uniform, weapons and tools is costing at least £50,000 a month, and much of it ends up on sites such as eBay.
Last year, Operation Embroil, the military police team monitoring sites such as eBay, discovered 107 cases where military kit was being sold illegally online. According to latest figures, 17 additional cases have arisen since the start of the year.
Whitehall sources say ministers fear some of the most dangerous equipment could fall into the hands of organised criminal gangs and terrorists. Military items available to buy on eBay this weekend include gas masks, antenna kits, rucksacks, body armour, flight helmets and vests, night vision goggles and global positioning equipment. One problem for investigators is identifying which items are commercially available, and which could only have come from Ministry of Defence supplies.
Veterans Minister Andrew Robathan has hailed the success of an on-going MoD Police crackdown on the unauthorised sale of military kit online.
Operation Embroil, which tracks and prosecutes the sale of stolen kit, primarily on auction website eBay, has secured 70 arrests, with 15 individuals prosecuted, 17 cautioned and more facing service disciplinary procedures since it began in 2008, Robathan told Parliament.
In one high-profile case in 2010, an army Quartermaster was ordered to pay back £6,600 after selling 168 army rucksacks and 64 pairs of boots stolen from RAF St Athan.
Other stolen items which have been listed for sale online include various items of clothing and uniforms, body armour, sleeping bags, tents, ration packs and medals.
While the arrest figures only cover the first two years of the operation, some 374 ‘intelligence packets’ relating to possible sale of stolen kit have been received to date.
A Ministry of Defence Police spokesman said the operation had recovered property or disrupted the theft of equipment valued at almost £1.4m
“Detectives continually monitor sites, and where officers believe items are being sold illegally they will investigate and the sellers will be visited. If evidence of theft exists then the MDP will seek to prosecute,” the spokesman said.
“…Our armed forces fighting on the front line deserve the best possible kit, and the MoD and MDP take a zero-tolerance approach to any theft, fraud or deception which deprives them of that.”
In August 2012, a former Parachute Regiment warrant officer was given a suspended jail sentence for handling stolen military goods and selling them on eBay. Allan Peet sold items worth £6,500 that should have gone to the frontline. A judge at Cardiff Crown Court called him a disgrace. He was caught by an MoD operation targeting military theft and fraud, as Toby Sadler reports in this video.