A man and woman were arrested in separate early morning raids on Tuesday on suspicion of possession of a firearm and ammunition in connection with the buried stash, according to Greater Manchester Police. The weapons were found in Broadhurst Park, Moston on January 31 after police received a tip-off.
The holdall contained an SA80 assault rifle loaded with two bullets, a blank firing Zoraki gas pistol, 31 9mm bullets, a silencer for the pistol and rocks of benzocaine, an anaesthetic commonly used as a cocaine cutting agent, Manchester Evening News reported.
In a statement, the force said: “Officers conducting warrants in relation to the discovery of firearms and ammunition in north Manchester earlier this year have arrested a 34-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman. Both remain in custody for questioning.”
Detective Inspector Simon Akker, firearms officer with Greater Manchester’s Serious Organised Group, said: “We located a large holdall buried in woodland in Broadhurst Park, north Manchester.
“In it was a Zoraki gas pistol, which [would] have been a blank firer originally, but the barrel has been replaced making it a section 1 firearm. It was adapted to fire 9mm bullets.”
DI Akker said it was “unusual” to recover an assault rifle like the one in the bag.
“We don’t think there are many assault rifles in criminal hands. We don’t see them being used very frequently, so to recover one is significant.
“That has the capability of causing a massive number of casualties. It is what the British Army uses in combat. It is an extremely capable weapon.”
He said there have been a few incidents of offenders using automatic weapons, including once at Trafford where no one was injured.
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Asked to explain the huge reduction in the last 12 months, DI Akker said the success of Operation Venetic, which saw police crack encrypted messaging software used by criminals, had a “significant impact” on the make-up of organised crime groups.
“That took out a lot of criminals and there were a lot of firearms recovered. So you have taken away people who have the capability to fire and the intent.”
While Manchester has seen a drop in shootings this year, two in three police force areas in England and Wales are experiencing rising gun crime, data shows.
Firearms offences have fallen 14 percent on the whole in the past 10 years, but 29 out of 43 police forces have seen an increase in gun crime during that time. In eight of these it has more than doubled.