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Panorama - Monday

Posted on 18 August, 2018 at 4:50

Panorama - BBC One Monday 20th at 20.30 BST 'legal weapon'. This arises from RFD Paul Edmunds buying obsolete calibre revolvers in the US and selling them with homemade ammunition to the scrote community, for which he got a 30-year sentence last November. The Beeb have been sitting on this programme for months waiting for another case to hit the courts - and that case ended on Wednesday with the dealer acquitted. Edmunds was a one-off rogue dealer, judging by the number of his 'associates' to have been rolled over by the police and come up clean. The Law Commission have recommended that antique firearms should not change hands for cash - a restriction that has applied to the scrap metal trade for sometime - and the Policing and Crime Act 2017 empowered the Home Office to introduce regulations to define an antique: which they haven’t yet. That's at the heart of this: the first Firearms Act in 1920 exempted antiques from controls, subject to being possessed solely as curiosities or ornaments. These two words had been used in conjunction with each other to advertise 'Exchange and Mart' magazine (founded 1878) in other publications, so in 1920 everyone knew what they meant. The landmark prosecution was Richards v Curwen in 1977 - which acquitted him of possessing two early mark (1890s) Webley revolvers. To be an antique, the firearm has to be kept as a curiosity or ornament after which its obsolescence by age is the question of fact and degree. The court rejected the prosecution argument that the Webleys used 'modern' ammunition on the basis that using ammunition type as a definition would mean they'd never become antiques, but also said that 20th century firearms probably wouldn’t be antiques. Naturally, the Home Office ignored the Court of Appeal and continued to rely on ammunition as defining antique versus modern. The secret memorandum of guidance to police (1969) suggested that obsolete ignition systems were antiques and carried that thinking through to the published version in 1989 with advice that possession of ammunition might indicate that something wasn’t a curiosity or ornament. Then in 1992, pressured by the passage of time, came the obsolete calibre list. That caused some prosecutions: one of our members had a collection of Martini Henry rifles on the wall and one on his firearm certificate for target shooting. So when the police rolled him, he was prosecuted for all the antiques because he had ammunition. They dropped that at the court door. Most of the prosecutions I dealt with (as an expert witness) were people who kept old guns as curiosities or ornaments and the prosecution challenge was that the stuff couldn’t be antique because it took ‘modern ammunition’. Acquittals included a pre-1893 .410” shotgun, a 12 bore 1910 Greener GP, loads of black powder proofed hammer shotguns and a few really old revolvers: all predating 1900, so the acquittals were in line with Richard v Curwen and the anomaly was the prosecutions – driven by guidance to the CPS that didn’t tell them how to decide whether to prosecute or not. In 1994 R v Brown, the Court of Appeal acquitted him – he had a .22” War Office pattern rifle – and said that time had moved on and so must the definition. Bill Harriman was the defence expert in that one. Prosecutors continued to apply guidance that did not take account of case law to their decisions. I had a case in which magistrates convicted a dude of all his collection – a Luger pistol, a 19th century blank firing single shot pistol and two flare pistols. These came to him as frames only: he made the stocks, trigger and locking latch and ‘barrelled’ them with copper tube. They looked quite smart, but the obsessive prosecution ‘expert’ insisted that they were lethal barrelled weapons. We didn’t appeal, as the magistrates gave him a conditional discharge and instructed police to give me the exhibits for deactivation so that the defendant could have them back. In another case, the exhibit was a Colt New Service revolver that had been changing hands round a shooting club for the previous 20 years or so. Police traced it back to when Army and Navy stores sold it new in 1915. The officer buyer gave it to his son for WW2 and he gave it to his daughter’s boyfriend in the 1970s – as he belonged to the club. The club secretary was convicted and fined £150. That was typical in such circumstances and remained so until the 2003 Anti-social Behaviour Act brought in a mandatory five-year sentence for possession of a prohibited small firearm. Handguns were banned in the UK in 1997. That had the effect of making a defence of ‘antique’ a bigger deal, because instead of £150 fines, five years inside would be a life changing experience. Our early experience of antiques cases post 2003 was prosecutions being dropped if a robust antique status argument was put up. These mostly related to obsolete calibres that weren’t on the Home office list. That list didn’t include .320, for example until the 2003 revision and still doesn’t include .455” – the ammunition that the Richards v Curwen revolvers (1977 acquittal) took. Then attitudes hardened – we think that the Home Office needed convictions for old tat to make gun crime look as though it were on the up. Juries didn’t want to convict collectors of obsolete stuff with a five year gaol term in the offing: significant acquittals included a 1942 Lanchester submachine gun and a 1946 Inglis Browning GP35 – David Dyson was the defence expert in those cases. That got the Law Commission into paranoid overdrive and led to clauses in the Policing and Crime Act 2017. Meanwhile, Paul Edmunds was buying old revolvers in the US, making the cartridges and selling into the black market. The case against the section 5 dealer that finished Wednesday started in January 2016 with police burning the electronic locks off his driveway gates. More than thirty police vehicles convoyed in to disgorge over 100 policemen who searched the house in the presence of his young family. He had a small antiques collection and was charged with possessing them without the authority of the secretary of state (which he has) on the strength of ammunition in his armoury might be suitable for use in them. Such is the paranoid obsession that drives the Home Office. Separating firearms licensing from the police and Home Office to a competent agency is long overdue in the UK. The jury acquitted him after the traditional two-hour lunch break. So what now? We’ll have to watch the programme and see. RL

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