Guilty of assault? Not so bad; maybe a slap on the wrist. Possession of a .22 pistol? Heinous crime; prison awaits.
A Lancashire farmer is headed to prison for keeping a homemade pistol in his loft and a shotgun under his bed. Gun control strikes a primal response in America, but that same nerve is long since dead in the UK.
In April of 2013, Paul Alton, a 51-year-old English farmer, got into an argument with wife Kim and the dispute escalated when Alton picked up a hammer and struck the arm of a chair she was sitting in. He then got in his vehicle and drove off while Kim called the police and reported him; his vehicle was spotted and the police quickly caught Alton on the highway.
From that point, the avuncular hand of big government took over. When Alton was pulled over, he was carrying a knife in his pocket — illegal possession in the UK. It’s against the law to “carry a knife in public without good reason - unless it’s a knife with a folding blade 3 inches long or less.” Basic knife possession laws in the UK are stringent: “A court will decide if you’ve got a good reason to carry a knife if you’re charged with carrying it illegally.”
But the knife infraction paled when Alton’s wife told police he had two guns and some hollow-points hidden in their house. An assault charge was suddenly relegated to the legal backseat, replaced with charges of consequence — possession of guns, ammo and a knife.
When police searched the house, they found two guns — and Alton didn’t have a permit for either one. One was a 12-gauge shotgun under Alton’s bed. The other was found in his loft: a homemade pistol crafted from bits of wood and leather shaped around an old barrel and modified to shoot .22 bullets. The pistol was made by Alton’s uncle, a butcher who used it to kill livestock and gave it to Alton five years back. Along with the crude pistol, police found 74 rounds of .22 hollow-points.
Alton had dared to keep a 12-gauge and a .22 in his house without express permission from the government; prosecution was sure. The gun violations were not a matter of a reprimand, fine or probation — Alton was charged with serious weapons infractions and faced the possibility of a mandatory five-year sentence.
Prosecutor Mark Lamberty was outraged by the guns, particularly the pistol. From The Bolton News: “The pistol will fire. It’s extremely dangerous and shouldn’t be done by anybody other than an expert.”
Alton’s lawyer, Joe Boyd, tried to explain his client’s background and reminded the court that Alton had been farming since the age of 16 — guns on a farm are often part of the territory. From the Daily Mail: “His intention was to use it for the humane dispatch of animals. He had no idea of the significance of the pistol.”
Alton pled guilty to host of charges: Possession of prohibited guns without a permit, possession of 74 hollow-points, possession of an illegal knife — and almost lost in the legal fray — assault.
The presiding judge bought little of Boyd’s argument, but opted for a slightly lesser penalty: “… he was given a reduced sentence of 30 months after Judge Beverly Lunt said the case was ‘exceptional’ and the pistol ‘bizarre.’” Lunt even admitted that Alton had no criminal intention — and sentenced him all the same: “It’s a weapon, it’s a gun, it can fire at anybody and it could dispatch humans. But you weren’t holding it for criminals and you weren’t using it for criminal purposes. Five years would be manifestly excessive although there must be a custodial sentence.”
The weapons charges were a farce. Alton should have been dealt with by the legal system based on the assault charges stemming from the dispute with his wife — and nothing else.
For related, see Farmer guilty of defending family with shotgun
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