Alan George/LONDON

A WEST LONDON trading firm run by an Iraqi-born Briton supplied Baghdad with 500 UK-made guidance systems for Scud missiles, worth about £6 million, an 18-month UK Customs investigation has established.

The shipments were made over a three-year period ending in November 1991 - nine months after the end of the Gulf War. The components were made by up to two dozen companies in south-east England, none of which suspected the use to which they would be put.

The pre-Gulf-crisis shipments violated UK controls on the export of missile technology. Those made after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait also breached UN trade sanctions.

The London company and its Iraq-born proprietor - which cannot be named for legal reasons - ordered about 20 different aluminium parts from Nokes Foundry of Halstead in Essex. The foundry even used a picture of one of the Scud components on its company sales brochure.

Perhaps the most active firm was Norcroft Dynamics, then based in Pusey, Wiltshire. The company, which produces specialist equipment such as control systems, assembled several of the larger components, including electric motors, for the Scud gyroscopes using parts bought in.

Norcroft has since changed ownership and management and the company has moved to Andover, Hampshire.

The suppliers delivered their equipment to the London trading firm, not suspecting that Iraq was to be the ultimate destination, let alone that they were building one of the most crucial components for missiles which Saddam Hussein planned to arm with nuclear, chemical and biological warheads.

In the period up to the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, most of the gyroscope parts went to Baghdad as air freight from London's Heathrow Airport.

After the invasion, the United Nations imposed trade sanctions on Iraq. With the Heathrow route blocked, the gyroscope components were sent to Vienna. There, the Iraqi-born Briton had established a small shipping company, which arranged for the goods to reach Iraq via Jordan.

To take advantage of UN rules which allow Iraq to import humanitarian goods, the later shipments were sent in crates marked "dental equipment".

Details of the illicit trade came to light in 1994, after UN weapons inspectors found the final shipment of gyroscope components dumped in a canal near Baghdad. Iraqi officials provided full details of who had supplied the goods.

A major customs investigation culminated with the arrest of five people in February, including the Iraqi-born Briton. All have now been released without being charged.

Customs has been advised that crucial gaps in the evidence would jeopardise any criminal trial.

Source: Flight International