Acquittal of two clients charged with possession of firearms and affray

After a week long trial before the Recorder of Chelmsford, Jeremy Lynn and Kyri Argyropolous have secured the acquittal of a father and son from a travelling family who were accused of Possessing a Firearm with Intent, Affray, Criminal Damage and Assault.

The Prosecution case was that the son had taken a firearm to a neighbouring caravan plot where he had threatened two women with the gun before shooting-up their caravan. In close support was his father – armed with a pitchfork. Video footage showed both defendants, armed and dangerous.

Three air rifles were recovered from the clients’ caravans, along with ammunition. A spent cartridge was found under a mattress. Although the footage appeared to show the son carrying a shotgun, no such item was found. Nearby a car belonging to the son of one complainant had had its rear screen shot out. One of the women produced a photograph of a circular bruise to her stomach which she claimed resulted from the son jabbing her in the belly with the barrel of his gun.

Both clients steered a wise course in interview – remaining silent. Neither gave evidence.

During the course of the trial it emerged that there were some 69 previously unserved photographs of the damaged caravan, graphically illustrating how it had been peppered with pellet holes – either from a shotgun or an air rifle. However, two remarkable facts emerged from these photographs and the SOCO’s report.

Firstly the damage was confined to the rear of the caravan, internally and externally. Two windows were broken and there were dozens of small punctures. The bulk of these had the appearance of having been fired from outside the rear of the caravan, but some had the look of having impacted with the rear wall internally, meaning that had they been fired from outside the caravan they would have had to have passed clean through it from the front. But there were no pellet holes to the front. This gave rise to a suggestion, keenly pursued by the defence, that somebody inside the caravan had caused all or some of the damage.

Secondly, despite a fingertip search by a trained police team, not one single pellet was found inside the caravan or out. How could it be that someone had repeatedly shot the caravan with pellets that had punctured the walls, broken windows, impacted here, there and everywhere inside, and yet not one pellet was found?

This gave rise to two propositions: either the complainants had deliberately removed all trace of the pellets before the police search was conducted, or it must be that the damage was caused by something (e.g. a sharp screwdriver) that was intended to look like gunfire.

The complainants stoutly denied that they had cleared up the mess before the police got there; they equally vehemently denied having caused the damage themselves.

The Prosecution had a problem on the firearms counts. In the absence of any shotgun having been found, the charges specified air rifles. However, of the three air rifles recovered from the clients’ possession two were eliminated from being the one used. These two were both equipped with scopes and were both gas charged. The gun being held by the son in the video footage was of a different kind. The third gun seized by the police looked more like the gun in the video, but it was a .177 calibre air-rifle and all of the ammunition seized was .22.

This gave rise to a half-time submission.
Except for certain items, air weapons are  largely excluded from the list of items that need a firearm certificate under s.1, or are prohibited weapons under s.5, of the Firearms Act 1968.
The Act defines a firearm as follows:

57.—(1) In this Act, the expression “firearm” means—
(a) a lethal barrelled weapon (see subsection (1B));
(b) a prohibited weapon;
(c) a relevant component part in relation to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon (see subsection (1D));
(d) an accessory to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon where the accessory is designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon; […]

(1B) In subsection (1)(a), “lethal barrelled weapon” means a barrelled weapon of any description from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than one joule at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged.
We were able to argue that as none of the air rifles seized were prohibited weapons and none had been tested to measure their kinetic energy, the Prosecution had simply failed to prove that the son had been in possession of a firearm.

The Judge said he would dismiss Counts 1 and 2 as they stood, but gave the Prosecution Counsel an opportunity to apply to amend so that the counts would read “imitation firearm”, but no such application was made. I believe that the prosecutor thought that it would be wrong to open the case to the jury on one footing and then seek a conviction on another. As a result our argument that a “real” air rifle was not an imitation firearm was never tested.

The son having been acquitted of the firearms offences, the prosecutor was left in the rather unsatisfactory position of accusing the son of causing criminal damage with a gun that was not a firearm. The jury were not long in acquitting on all counts.

Jeremy and Kyri were instructed by Sumeer Chaudhry of BAC Solicitors.