A SOLDIER stole military equipment to give to a firearms dealer, who then made weapons from them, a court has heard.

Staff Sergeant Andrew Tongue, between Sunday, January 5, 2014, and Tuesday, July 24, 2018, stole parts of military small arms and five receivers – key components to firearms - which belonged to the Ministry of Defence while based in Tidworth.

Tongue stole the parts to give to licensed firearms dealer Gary Howard, who previously provided firearms to companies in the entertainment industry, for military shows and films including Saving Private Ryan.

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Police received information in July 2018 that Howard, who has since died, was selling the parts, and executed a search warrant at his address. 

At Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, January 3, prosecutor Robert Bryan said officers discovered a hidden room behind a bookcase where several weapons were found.

Mr Bryan said Howard's media devices showed messages between him and Tongue where Howard requested parts and the pair "discussed methods" of how to steal the equipment.

The court heard that some of the stolen materials were used to make "viable weapons" and "the value of each completed weapon was around £3,000".

Mr Bryan continued: "The parts belonged to the military and were unavailable to the public. He (Tongue) cannot know where the parts might end up. Mr Tongue would know, and know only too well, in his position as a serving solider what the effect is of pulling a trigger on such a weapon and the devastating effect of such a weapon."

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He added: "Military weapons are for the military and he quite deliberately removed that from the military.”

Tongue previously pleaded guilty to five counts of theft by an employee during a hearing in November last year.

In mitigation, Richard Atkinson said that some of the items were "found in a metal skip" and were "items of scrap open to anyone walking past".

Mr Atkinson told the court that Tongue "remains a trusted individual" and he gave the parts to "someone who held a Home Office licence to use them lawfully, although obtained them unlawfully".

District Judge Stephen Apted handed Tongue a nine month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.

He must also complete 200 hours of unpaid work, pay court costs of £85 and a surcharge fee of £154.

District Judge Apted said: "You stole these five upper receivers which have been described as key component parts of firearms."

He told the court that the incidents happened when Tongue was "employed in a position of trust".