A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to Surrey police could face at least five years in prison for being in possession of a prohibited firearm.
Paul Clarke of Merstham, in Surrey, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on 17 November, after finding the sawn-off shotgun and two cartridges in March this year.
In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: ?I did not think for one moment I would be arrested. I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets.?
The court heard how Mr Clarke found a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden, which backs on to a field. He added: ?I didn?t know what to do, so the next morning I rang chief superintendent Adrian Harper at Surrey police and asked if I could pop in and see him.?
Mr Clarke was then arrested for possession of a firearm at Reigate police station and taken to a cell. Prosecutor Brian Stalk explained to the jury that possession of a firearm was a ?strict liability? charge, therefore Mr Clarke?s allegedly honest intent was irrelevant.
?Just by having the gun in his possession Mr Clarke was guilty of the charge and has no defence in law against it,? he added.
Mr Clarke?s solicitor, Lionel Blackman of Lionel Blackman solicitors in Epsom, Surrey, told Shooting Times that whatever the final judgement of this case, the law needs amending and clear guidelines should be issued regarding the surrender and finding of prohibited guns.
?The case is not over and the judge has yet to rule on whether exceptional circumstances exist to avoid the statutory minimum sentence of five years.?
He added: ?In two previous court cases, the Court of Appeal has agreed sentences of two years as exceptional where the defendants stated it was their intention to surrender or dispose of the firearms the police found in their possession.?
A spokesman for Surrey police told Shooting Times: ?Mr Clarke was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon and found guilty by a jury following a trial at Guildford Crown Court. He is currently awaiting sentence. Mr Clarke had been in possession of the shotgun and cartridges for some days before attending the police station and had not made prior contact to make officers aware of its existence.?
The Countryside Alliance?s Tim Bonner pointed out that many legitimate shotgun owners might have also taken the view that moving a firearm such as this from a place where it could have been picked up and used irresponsibly to a place of safety such as a gun cabinet or police station would be the responsible thing to do.
?You could say that the decision by the police to arrest Mr Clarke and the Crown Prosecution Service to charge him completely lacked common sense. In recent weeks Shooting Times has highlighted a number of other cases where the police have reacted in an extraordinary manner against innocent people just because firearms have been involved. The message needs to be reiterated to police officers at every level that not all gun use is illegal and that not all people with a gun are intent on using it unlawfully.?
Mr Clarke is due to be sentenced on 18 December. Surrey police advise anyone who finds a prohibited gun to treat it as suspicious and as a potential crime scene and report it to police immediately by ringing 999.