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Holidaymaker fails to cut five year sentence for disguised stun guns

13 April 2017

A Scot who bought two stun guns disguised as mobile phones while on holiday in Bulgaria and tried to bring them back into this country, has failed on appeal to show exceptional circumstances that would justify departing from the minimum five year prison sentence laid down by Parliament for certan firearms offences.

Lord Turnbull and Lord Brodie in the Criminal Appeal Court ruled that the trial judge did not err in sentencing Henry Morton to that term for a breach of s 5(1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968, relating to possession of a firearm disguised as another object, for which s 51A of the Act required the court to impose a minimum of five years “unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or to the offender which justify it in not doing so”.

The guns had been on open sale in Bulgaria and the appellant had known what he was purchasing. He had posted on Facebook that he was going to bring them back to the UK and try to sell them, and had sent messages about the guns from his phone. When detained at Glasgow Airport he denied knowing what they were; at a proof in mitigation he claimed to have drunk a lot in Bulgaria and not to remember much of what he did. He did not intend to sell them. He was a separated father of four and actively involved in the care of his children, aged between 10 and 16, two of whom were in special schools.

It was argued that the weapons were non-lethal and could not discharge projectiles, and the appellant had no intentions in relation to them. The judge had given insufficient weight to the type of weapon, the appellant's low risk assessment and his personal circumstances.

Delivering the opinion of the court refusing the appeal, Lord Turnbull said the judge was "correct to say that it was irrelevant for the purpose of considering exceptionality that the stun guns could not discharge bullets. They are not designed to do so, yet still fall within the minimum sentencing provision". 

It was also clear that he had not believed the appellant's evidence regarding intention, and while there was evidence of the appellant's tendency to act impulsively and of low intellect, these features did not prevent him from knowing that what he was doing was illegal.

"In our opinion," Lord Turnbull concluded, "the circumstances of the offence in the present case are serious and plainly fell within the type of offending behaviour which Parliament intended to prevent... The weapons were to the knowledge of the appellant in working order and had with them the means of causing harm. His intention was to sell the weapons on and thus to put them out of his own control. In our opinion this was the deliberate type of offending with the potential to cause serious public harm which Parliament intended to prevent by the sentencing regime selected."

Click here to view the opinion.

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