By Ian Thorpe
When an ex soldier in Britain found a gun in his garden, he thought he was doing the right thing by taking it to the police station. Instead of being thanked, however, he was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a firearm.
Britain’s already draconian gun controls were tightened up considerably after the Dunblane school massacre about a decade ago. Possession of a handgun is now a strict liability in law issue: if somebody is found in possession of a gun, they are guilty regardless of circumstances. Such a clause achieves nothing but to show the law is badly drafted (as is common in the UK, where politically correct thinking usually overrules common sense).
Read the details of this case in which the former soldier, who found a gun dumped in his garden, acted responsibly and contacted his local police station. The newspaper report extract below, from ThisIsSurreyToday, goes a bit beyond “fair use,” but I don’t think they will mind [and if they do, please let me know and we'll cut it down. -- Jeff]:
Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.
The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five year’s imprisonment for handing in the weapon.
In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: “I didn’t 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 was on the balcony of his home in Nailsworth Crescent, Merstham, when he spotted a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden.
In his statement, he said: “I took it indoors and inside found a shorn-off shotgun and two cartridges. I didn’t know what to do, so the next morning I rang the Chief Superintendent, Adrian Harper, and asked if I could pop in and see him. At the police station, I took the gun out of the bag and placed it on the table so it was pointing towards the wall.”
Mr Clarke was then arrested immediately for possession of a firearm at Reigate police station, and taken to the cells.
Defending, Lionel Blackman told the jury Mr Clarke’s garden backs onto a public green field, and his garden wall is significantly lower than his neighbours. He also showed jurors a leaflet printed by Surrey Police explaining to citizens what they can do at a police station, which included “reporting found firearms”.
Quizzing officer Garnett, who arrested Mr Clarke, he asked: “Are you aware of any notice issued by Surrey Police, or any publicity given to, telling citizens that if they find a firearm the only thing they should do is not touch it, report it by telephone, and not take it into a police station?”
To which, Mr Garnett replied: “No, I don’t believe so.”
Prosecuting, 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 he was guilty of the charge, and has no defence in law against it, he added.
But despite this, Mr Blackman urged members of the jury to consider how they would respond if they found a gun.
He said: “This is a very small case with a very big principle. You could be walking to a railway station on the way to work and find a firearm in a bin in the park. Is it unreasonable to take it to the police station?”
Paul Clarke will be sentenced on December 11.
Judge Christopher Critchlow said: “This is an unusual case, but in law there is no dispute that Mr Clarke has no defence to this charge. The intention of anybody possessing a firearm is irrelevant.”
Certainly a tough break for a man trying to be public spirited, but I am surprised the Judge did not add insult to injury by saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Consider the implications here. The court seems to be suggesting that Mr. Clarke should have left the gun where it was. Not only would it have been grossly irresponsibe to leave the gun in the bag once he knew it was there, had he done so he would still be technically “in possession” so long as the gun was on his property.
The police, obsessed with targets and statistics, saw this as a “crime detetcted and solved” opportunity. In the past twelve years the Labour government has created many such offences, they serve to mask the bureaucratic overload which has left only 2.5 percent of our police force available to patrol the streets and investigate serious crimes. Should you come across any reports of how successful the government have been in reducing crime rates for recorded crimes, bear in mind this was mostly achieved by two simple expedients: Police no longer record many less serious crimes if there is little chance of catching the perpetrators, and crimes committed by the under 16s are no longer counted.
Needless to say, no matter how many responsible citizens are convicted under the stupid law that put Paul Clarke in the dock, the bad guys never seem to have a problem getting hold of whatever weapons they want. Only law-abiding citizens, it seems, abide by the law.
I remember somebody saying to me a long time ago that, in the future, the police would be red hot on speeding, parking, littering and other minor misdemeanours at the expense of pursuing serious criminals. People who commit those minor offences are not likely to have guns, knives or baseball bats with nails through the end.
At the expense of common sense, it seems the prediction is coming true.
Ian Thorpe is a British satirical writer. Before retiring at a rather tender age following a serious illness, he was a consultant specializing in integrated digital networks. His projects involved him in utilities, banking and finance, oil and chemicals and many branches of commerce and government. He currently maintains his own Web presence at Greenteeth Multi Media, and has been contributing at America’s Right since March 2009.