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hose of us who hold shotgun or firearm certificates are vulnerable to false or malicious accusations from people who know that the forces of law and order will always tend to confiscate guns first and ask questions later. I don?t normally blame the police in such instances. The real culprits are those who know how to play the system and do not themselves have any certificates to lose. The police are merely acting on information received and the precautionary principle must apply where guns are concerned.

Having said this, we have to hope that, once the situation becomes clearer, the police will do the right thing and not throw the book at a decent gun owner who is merely the victim of an unscrupulous complainant with an axe to grind. Unfortunately, this sort of common-sense filter does not always come into play.

It is with this in mind that I regard with some suspicion, moves to involve a wider variety of people in an assessment of a certificate applicant?s fitness to possess a gun. On the face of it, this might make consummate sense. Yet I know of two situations where an embittered ex has quite deliberately shopped their former partner to the police via trumped-up allegations and caused the revocation of certificates. In each case, this happened without any independently corroborated evidence. Perhaps the accused didn?t have access to proper advice ? I don?t know. What I do know is that in each case they lost their guns.

In another instance, a keen wildfowler had an altercation with a taxi driver about alleged overcharging. The wildfowler said he would report the cabbie to the licensing authority. The taxi driver decided to get his retaliation in first. He rang the police on his mobile, saying that he had been threatened by a person who, he happened to know, ?had guns?. On hearing the magic word ?guns?, the boys in blue rolled into action like a German armoured division crossing the Polish border.

Within the hour, the wildfowler had been arrested. His guns were seized while he was interviewed and offi cers went on to interview his friends and family. He eventually emerged from the ordeal shaken but, thankfully, with his certificate intact. Naturally, there was no investigation of whether or not the cabbie had attempted to overcharge.

I was reminded of the vulnerability of lawful gun owners in this country when I read a rash of tabloid stories about a disabled Essex farmer who said that he had merely shot at what he thought was a fox, only to find that he had peppered a couple of alleged intruders lurking in the grounds. The police response was to send a helicopter and 16 armed officers to arrest the farmer, who duly lost his certificate.

Now, you can make of the farmer?s story what you like, but what interests me is the action that was taken by the police. Even after you have sieved away the usual tabloid excesses, the remaining nuggets of fact are as follows: neither of the two alleged intruders was badly injured; neither offered any credible explanation of why they were on private property; and neither actually made a complaint ? indeed, they refused to do so. Instead, police action was instigated by staff from the hospital where the two had sought treatment. Apparently, neither had any connection whatsoever with a traveller?s camp near the farm in question. Nor with a cannabis factory that had been operating without the farmers? knowledge in a let building, complete with an illegal mains electricity connection that was siphoning power from his metered supply at a cost to him of an estimated £15,000 a year.

And the key fact ? the real humdinger ? is this: at the time of writing, Essex Police had taken no action against either of the two alleged intruders. None at all. I wouldn?t be surprised if they provided each of them with nice cups of tea. Even biscuits, perhaps.

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