We have commented before on the harshness of UK firearms laws, and how it sometimes causes unfairness. Another area that we have looked at is the increasing willingness of the Courts to send elderly people to prison.
Roy Delph is an 88 year old man who lives with housebound wife of 48 years in Norfolk. His daily routine mainly involved caring for his wife in their house, but he would go out once a day to get a paper and feed “a number of animals including cats that he feeds daily on a piece of land he owns“.
Mr Delph had a history of being the victim of Anti-Social behaviour, and “had been “tormented” by young people who damaged his property and killed a kitten that he cared for“.
Reading between the lines, this appears to have been the reason why Mr Delph was found last August with a loaded shotgun in his car.
The shotgun was old, 124 years old to be precise, and it seems that Mr Delph “held a firearms licence, but since court proceedings began his guns, ammunition and licence had been withdrawn from him“, in part this was because when the police attended his house, it seems that Mr Delph had not been complying the requirements under the firearms legislation.
Notwithstanding that Mr Delph had never been in trouble before, the Judge took account of the fact that no reason had been given why Mr Delph had the loaded shotgun and that there had been a “brazen disregard of the relevant legislation” in imposing the sentence of 2 years imprisonment.
What was the charge?
Irritatingly, neither of the reports we have linked to above make it clear. We are told that “The offence to which Delph pleaded guilty carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison, but Judge Nicholas Coleman agreed to reduce this at an earlier hearing“.
There are various offences that attract a minimum sentence of 5 years, unless there are exceptional circumstances – these are those offences listed in s51A Firearms Act 1968.
It may be that the gun was a sawn off shot gun, but we don’t know at this stage.
Whatever the charge, it seems to have been accepted by the Judge that Mr Delph “did not discharge [the gun] on this occasion and did not intend to cause fear of violence” and, by implication, did not intend to harm anyone with it.
In light of all of that, if this was actually a case that attracted the mandatory, it was clearly right that there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ on any sensible view of the law. Whether that finding is actually legally correct on the caselaw is unclear, but we would hope that there is no question of an Attorney-General’s Reference here.
But was it necessary to send him to prison? I would question that – when you have an 88 year old who has never been in trouble before, there are surely other ways of dealing with it other than an immediate custodial sentence.
It’s a contentious area, but it seems to me that had the police taken away his firearms and the firearms licence, then a suspended sentence would have been a perfectly good way of dealing with this.
So the Express is perhaps right to be outraged. Although I find their outrage a bit nauseating – it is due to papers like theirs that the (in my view silly) mandatory minimum legislation was passed. His case shows the problems that the law causes. Is it perhaps time to rethink it, and scrap the minimum sentencing?