July 24 2014 Latest news:
James Podesta, Reporting from Cambridge Crown Court
Thursday, July 17, 2014
A World War Two pistol owned by a Wisbech councillor and former mayor was not “not antique or obsolete; it is a fully-functioning modern weapon despite its age.”
The prosecution claim was made yesterday as the trial began of Councillor Jonathan Farmer, who kept the gun at his home for 25 years.
Farmer, 56, of South Brink, Wisbech, denies one charge of possession of a firearm under the 1968 Firearms Act.
The gun, a Walther PPK hand gun dating from 1941, with a barrel less than 12in in length, was discovered during a police search of Farmer’s home on January 10 this year.
That morning, officers with search dogs arrived at the home at 7.15am.
When Farmer was asked if there were firearms at the premises, he retrieved the gun from the brown leather holster in a cabinet on the first floor landing.
He told the officers “I think it has been deactivated”.
Farmer was arrested and, under questioning, explained the hand gun was a gift from a veteran of the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, who had taken it from a German officer.
The case, which is being heard at Cambridge Crown Court, hinges in whether the handgun should be classified as a weapon or, as the defence argues, an antique – there is an exemption under the 1968 act for guns which are considered an ornament or curiosity.
Michael Proctor, prosecuting, said the handgun was in excellent condition and, if given the correct ammunition, could still be fired and injure or kill somebody.
Addressing the jury, he said: “It is up to you to decide whether this is an antique or a modern weapon. The gun is not antique or obsolete; it is a fully-functioning modern weapon despite its age.”
The jury has been shown the gun, which contained two inert bullets (they were not live as explosives had been removed from them).
Following a break for lunch, firearms officer Joseph Hill, prosecution witness, who inspected the gun on January 14, gave evidence.
He said, considering its age, it was in “excellent condition”- it was fully functioning and could be fired with ammunition from 1941 or today.
There were no signs of the weapon having been de-activated, he added.
He said: “To check if it was deactivated you would see if the barrel had been blocked. Someone familiar with guns would see this.
“It qualifies as a prohibited weapon because it is a lethal weapon capable of discharging bullets and also because of its size (less than 12 in). Ammunition for it is readily accessible. It’s not obsolete.”
But defence witness, forensic scientist Mark Mastaglio, said “you can’t just pop into Waitrose and get a bag of ammunition”.
He said: “You have to have access to a firearms dealer and get a certificate. Since the Dunblane massacre, pistol ammunition has been difficult to source.”
Mr Mastaglio said there was no evidence the gun had been fired since the Second World War and its historical value would make it attractive to collectors –giving it a potential value of hundreds of pounds.
The court was then read the transcript of Farmer’s police interview.
He said he was given the gun at least 25 years ago by a close friend who he considered to be a second father.
Farmer, who is being defended by Stephen Harvey QC, said his friend told him it had been deactivated.
The councillor, who served in the Territorial Army for 30 years, said: “He gave it to me because it meant something to him. He didn’t want to get rid of it completely but he couldn’t have it around the house
because his wife would kick up about it.
“If I had known it was a viable firearm, I would have handed it in
“It was head against heart – hanging on to a memento of somebody you loved or more sensibly getting rid of it.”
Apart from when he moved from Warwickshire to Wisbech, it had never been out of the house, Farmer said.
When asked how often he had cleaned the gun, he said on two or possibly three occasions.
The case continues. It is expected to end today