Britain cannot stop illegal gun-running until it ends its own dalliances with dictators, peace activists said today ahead of a BBC exposé of arms dealers.
Yorkshire gunshop owner Gary Hyde was jailed last year for his role in the illegal shipping of around 40,000 AK47s and millions of bullets from China to Nigeria in 2006 - on the eve of a tense general election.
A BBC File On Four radio documentary recounts the Hyde affair at 8pm tonight.
But campaigners said the story was still far from a happy ending.
Amnesty International's arms programme director Oliver Sprague said Hyde's conviction showed illegal arms traffickers could be brought to justice.
"But the gaping loopholes that still exist internationally must be closed if we want to stop arms deals like these fuelling terrible atrocities."
It was "staggering" that the shipments were even possible, he added.
But Campaign Against Arms Trade's Kay Stearman said the practice could not exist without the legally sanctioned weapons industry.
The illegal small arms trade is estimated between £1.2 billion and £6.2bn a year - but Geneva's Small Arms Survey has said legal sales alone last year were worth at least £5.3bn.
And Britain's own export officials had signed off shipments to a bevy of oppressive regimes in recent years - all official and above-board despite well-documented torture and killings of protesters.
The Business Department approved around £12 million in "strategic export" arms licences to the military-controlled Egyptian government with most of that earmarked for "projectile launchers."
And the United Arab Emirates got the green light for £6.4m in arms shipments, including guns, night-vision sights and military vehicle parts.
Ms Stearman said the black market carried an air of "swashbuckling" but legal dealers had just as much blood on their hands.
"All illegal weapons start off as legal ones," she noted.
Once weapons were licensed for export there was no way anyone could have control of the people wielding them, she said - the only decision was whether to produce them at all.
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