One of the biggest arms hauls in Northern Ireland in almost two decades was discovered accidentally by a person using a metal detector.
Around 16 modern semi-automatic handguns, believed to be of Eastern European origin, and 800 rounds of ammunition were found close to Lagan College, an integrated secondary school on the outskirts of east Belfast.
It is understood the weapons which were buried in woodland owned by the National Trust were found after the treasure hunter picked up a signal on the hand held machine rather than police acting on intelligence.
Detectives have yet to establish if the weapons were owned by a terror grouping or criminal element but the finger of suspicion has been pointed at loyalist paramilitaries who have been blamed for orchestrating rioting linked to ongoing parades and flags disputes.
Democratic Unionist MLA Jimmy Spratt, a retired police officer, said he believed the cache had not been buried deep underground which suggested an amateur operation.
“If you look at the hole in the ground they were not buried deep. It was a matter of inches from the surface. From my previous police experience the situation looked quite amateurish. It looks like they were put into a five gallon oil drum and buried. It was fresh digging that has taken place fairly recently.
“I have an open mind about who owns the guns and I think we should allow the police to finish their investigations.
“The good thing about it is that at least now the weapons are in safe hands. They cannot now be used for the purposes for which they were brought in and that was to cause murder and mayhem on the streets.”
Ballistic tests are being carried out to establish if the weapons, which were in good condition, have been used in any shootings.
The PSNI declined to comment.