There was much controversy surrounding the recent Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair at the Expo centre in London.

Condemnation of the event has come from a number of quarters, including the Mayor of London and faith leaders. Rightly so, the arrival of so many people in the business of trading weapons, designed to kill people more efficiently, is not a good look for a major capital city.

Yet the bi-annual arms fair has endured. Some 20 years ago, the DSEI was held in Chertsey, welcoming arms dealers to the Hampshire countryside. There was protest then but the arms fair went on regardless.

The 1999 DSEI turned out to be a big story for me as a journalist. I had had a tip off that there was a Romanian company exhibiting and selling illegal anti-personnel landmines.

I had been involved as a journalist exposing some of the damage done by these weapons across the world. In Cambodia in the 1990s I saw at first hand the damage done, with young and old struggling through life after having their legs blown off.

A memory that has always stuck with me was of a 10-year-old girl at the Cambodia Trust amputee centre in Phnom Penh, working her way along parallel bars as she learned how to use her two new prosthetic legs.

There were also the stories of arms makers designing these weapons in bright colours so that children might pick them up. No doubt the same individuals would then go home to their own children having compartmentalised their daytime activities. Just doing the job.

So the DSEI exhibition held a particular relevance for me. The whole process of ascertaining what was going on at the Romanian company Romtehnica’s stand proved surprisingly easy. Having got into the exhibition on my press pass, I went over to the company’s stall and asked about anti-personnel mines. The informant that told me of the illegal weapons had mentioned one or two mines. The salesman brought out a whole list of products available.

After obtaining the evidence I left, to be met outside by Channel 4 News. They had agreed to do the story, which then went on to headline that evening (Friday) and on into the evening. It then ran across the national media.

A government inquiry was established to look into what was going on. After the initial furore died down I heard little more for a couple of months. Then the Ministry of Defence Police got in touch. Two officers came to my home to take a statement, as I was a witness to these illegal actions on British soil.

There have been instances down the years of companies selling things they shouldn’t have been at DSEI but it does seem scrutiny and security tightened up following the landmines incident.

What is surprising and disturbing though is that the DSEI arms exhibition seems to have grown as a major place for companies to sell weaponry.

That is what makes the protests at the recent event so important. It is a sign that the event is at last becoming seen as unacceptable – a market in death. An event that normalises killing, as well as the industry that helps create the tools of that trade.

Journalists too must continue to report on what is going on inside the confines of DSEI – the PR operations may be slicker now but the very presence of journalists does help to police the activities of those attending. All of these factors should combine to one day lead to the exit of DSEI from Expo. It is not something wanted in London now or in the future. The promotion of war and death is not something that should have a place anywhere in our country.

  • Paul Donovan is a Redbridge Labour councillor for Wanstead village and blogger. See