SHOOTERS' RIGHTS ASSOCIATION
Published by TSRA Ltd
PO Box 3, Cardigan SA43 1BN
On line edition ISSN 2398-3329
News in Brief
Grace v DC – US court report
Prohibited Person Applications
Blair Grindle appeal
Firearms Statistics 2016
Mark Holmes Appeal
The Mac Ten Man
Scottish Air Guns
- The Mint by T E Lawrence
- Dead on Time by John McVicar
- The battle to clear Barry George
- by Mike Bourke 22
- Justice for Jill, by Scott Lomax. 23
What really happened in Dallas? 25
Richard Law - EDITORIAL
The SRA is an organisation of two halves: founded in 1984 as a legal interest group monitoring government interest in firearms controls, all our founder members were shooters. Dick Baxter suggested mentioning battle re-enactment in our PLI policy: he was and still is active in an American Civil War group and thus emerged the second half, collectively ‘living history’.
Re-enactment got off to a shaky start with administrative obstruction on all sides. Many police forces opted to require re-enactment firearms held on certificates to have barrel obstructions to ‘prevent’ live ammunition being used. This was part of a wider policy of restricting a firearm solely to the ‘good reason’ for which it had been granted. Live ammunition shooters fared no better at the hands of the so-called public servants in firearms administration. The Met, for example, decided that there was no legal way to take a gun to a shoot. The firearm certificate condition said it had to be locked away at all times except when in actual use, which meant any attempt to take a firearm to a range would only avoid prosecution if undetected.
All such difficulties placed in the way of our social activities by bureaucrats have been overcome – and then replaced by new ones, as the firearms managers used to get together under the auspices of the defunct Association of Chief Police Officers to think up new ways of not doing their jobs. They were all hired, after all, to issue certificates to applicants. No other branch of bureaucracy has invested so much time and public money in searching for ways of avoiding doing the work they were hired for.
And there’s more to come: fed up with the courts not treated every law-abiding taxpayer dragged through them as the villain Home Office policy thinks they should be, they are in the process of changing the law. It’s a case of tearing up the rule books as established by Parliament and the courts over the past quarter century and replacing them with the rules they tried and failed to bring in by prosecuting certificate holders and dealers. Antiques, de-acs and component parts are in the process of being re-defined, although of more interest in the policing and crime bill is a clause that expects everyone to ‘have regard’ for Home Office guidance on firearms matters. Since that guidance is at times vague, at others doesn’t articulate the issue and elsewhere is just plain wrong, it’s going to get interesting.
Also of passing interest should be the attitude of the shooting organisations to all this. Britain has never had a ‘gun lobby’ per se: the organisations that make up the British Shooting Sports Council are governing bodies. They each have a constitution and rules and are thus governed by their members’ wishes and their members generally want their sport administered, scores recorded, medals issued. That leaves shooting organisations rather in the position of Cowslip’s warren in Watership Down: tolerant of the occasional empty chair, closed business or a membership subscription not renewed as long as it’s not theirs.
Which is where the SRA came in – back in 1984 with an interest in matters legal. So we’ll get on with that while you all enjoy the season. Last year, re-enactors experienced police checks of their de-acs against certificates at some shows. At some point this year, the new law rendering all de-acs to date ‘defectively deactivated’ will kick in. Essentially they are retrospectively being deemed ‘out of proof’ and can’t be sold until re-worked to the new European spec. But this is going to be much harsher than selling a real gun out of proof, as that’s a matter for the proof master to prosecute and his primary interest is in getting the fee for re-proofing it. With the police involved, it could become difficult, or it may pass, as have so many other attempts to crack down on the law abiding in hope of finding fault; such as the kitemarks for gun cabinets farce in the 1990s.
If this year is much marred, we suspect it will be how the shows manage that will make the difference. The trend seems to be toward venues getting dearer, which translates into higher pitch fees for exhibitors and the latter saving their money by not attending. The Midland Game Fair seemed hard hit last year and the year before: attendance was up, but the stall count declined. That hasn’t stopped them and although some of the smaller events have been cancelled this year, it’s still the case that we have lost more shows to adverse weather than to costs or negative legislation.
The SRA doesn’t exhibit, costs issue, but that doesn’t stop us attending without portfolio, so we might meet some of you as the season progresses. That is, when we’re not tracking the progress of the law’s conflict with your rights and privileges, not to mention your peaceful enjoyment of your possessions in your chosen social pastime.
The Home Office launched a consultation in January 2017 about the fees it intends to charge for the authority to possess prohibited weapons, the approval of rifle and loose ammunition pistol clubs and museum collections in anticipation of the authority to charge fees being vested in them by the completion of the Policing and Crime Bill currently before Parliament.
They have taken to calling these authorities ‘licenses’, although there has been no change in the law either to make them into licenses or to call them such.
The Home Office has issued prohibited weapons authorities under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 since 1973, when they took over the role from the Defence Council. Since then the category has been swollen to include some forty types of firearms and ammunition, as well as some products that are not firearms at all. An applicant has to prove his need to possess prohibited weapons separately for each category applied for. Some prohibited weapons are in more than one sub-category of section 5.
Prohibited weapons that are firearms are also subject to section 1(firearm certificate) control, so one requires either such a certificate or registration as a dealer as well as a section 5 authority to possess them. The Home Office propose a fee of £1,860 for a dealer to trade in prohibited weapons, with a £200 discount if an RFD is applied for at the same time, since all the checks for a section 5 are carried out by the police in the context of issuing the RFD apart from confirming the business or other need that the applicant has.
APPROVAL of rifle and loose ammunition pistol clubs currently costs £84. The Home Office propose charging £1,050 to grant a six-year ‘licence’ and £900 to renew it. The proposal document refers to shooting clubs as businesses and proposes a fee of £690 to change the address at which club firearms are stored, £470 to change the name on the club firearm certificate and £110 to alter the name of the club on their records.
This is quite bizarre, given that an officer of the club usually holds club firearms on a certificate, so a change of address involves the police amending the firearm certificate (for free) and the Home Office doing nothing for their proposed fee. Changing the named certificate holder is likewise entirely a police matter.
Some clubs are either part of a firearms dealership or are registered as dealers, whereupon a change of personnel involves the new owner applying to the police for an RFD, as they aren’t transferable. So what the Home Office is going to do for its money is opaque.
At the back of these proposed fees is that the Home Office have a full time department dedicated to these firearms matters, which is not very busy, so the exorbitant cost of staffing that is, in effect, being shared out among the small number of clubs and businesses that have need of the ‘licenses’. These generate some 700 applications of all types per year (14 a week) and processing them is mainly a case of waiting for the police to confirm that the applicant is a firearm certificate holder, registered firearms dealer or museum curator as the case may be and has appropriate storage for the prohibited weapons.
The department seems powerless to act until the police have done their bit, which makes the Home Office involvement look rather pointless – a duplicate rubber stamp. There is no appeal mechanism for refusals, which violates EU law.
Our view of the section 5 issuing function of the Home Office is that it would be better vested in the DTi, since they have more to do with the day-to-day business of the prohibited weapons trade. Or back to the Ministry of Defence, from whence it came in 1973. Those two departments are both involved in the export of military weapons anyway and would thus have a better handle on an applicant’s ‘need’ than the Home Office, which is outside the loop.
The approval of clubs is not fit for purpose, as it does not cover all the firearms that might be used at clubs. We have this weird situation in which one has to belong to a Home Office approved club in order to possess firearms for target shooting on a firearm certificate, including types that Home Office approval does not extend to, such as long-barrel revolvers and section 1 shotguns. In every case we have had involving clubs in difficulties over their Home Office approval, the local police instigated all the decisions causing the difficulty. It seems to us that the club’s approval might as well be linked to the grant of the club’s firearm certificate. The Home Office is merely a rubber stamp and has been for years.
Our comments to the Home Office in this consultation will have been posted on our website by the time you read this journal. www.shootersrightsassociation.co.uk
NEWS IN BRIEF
Kenneth Hugill’s acquittal (10th March 2017) at Hull crown court of GBH after he shot a would-be burglar in the small hours of the night (and the foot) prompted us to dig this letter out: first published in ‘Country Life’ magazine, it was reprinted in the Daily Telegraph in 2015 to promote a book about letters to the Country Life editor.
Radio Times cover the week Jill Dando died
Radio Times cover the week Jill Dando died
See page 18
See page 18
Back cover of Radio Times. The word 'murder' is part of a book club advert
Back cover of Radio Times. The word 'murder' is part of a book club advert
THE LAW AND THE BURGLAR
[November 27th, 1909]
Sir,—If “Country House” will refer to Stone’s Justices’ Manual, forty-eighth edition, 1908, page 813, note G, he will see that he has a perfect right to shoot a burglar. The following is an extract: “As to killing a burglar, see Stephen’s Commentaries, fourteenth edition, vol. 4, page 40, where it is laid down that: if any person attempts the robbery or murder, or to break open a house in the nighttime, and is killed in such attempt, either by the party assaulted or the owner of the house, or the servant attendant upon either, or by any other person present and interposing to prevent mischief, the slayer shall be acquitted and discharged.”
I have beside me a cutting from a local paper, dated November, 1893, which under the heading of “Should Burglars Be Shot?” says, “the Saturday Review discusses the theory as to the right or otherwise of householders to shoot persons whom they find occupying their premises, after a felonious breaking and entry, especially at night.” Commenting on the decision of a recent case at Manchester, it says, “Mr. Justice Grantham must clearly be enrolled among the followers of the late Mr. Justice Wills, and who could be in a better following?
Mr. Justice Wills was asked, ‘If I look into my drawing-room and see a burglar packing up the clock, and he cannot see me, what ought I to do?’ He replied as nearly as may be, ‘My advice to you, which I give as a man, as a lawyer and as an English judge, is as follows: In the supposed circumstances this is what you have a right to do, and I am by no means sure that it is not your duty to do it: Take a double-barrelled gun, carefully load both barrels, and then, without attracting the burglar’s attention, aim steadily at his heart and shoot him dead.’”
Whether the above is a true record of what the (then) late Mr. Justice Wills said or not I cannot vouch for; it is only a copy of what appeared in the paper, but it stands to reason that if a man finds a burglar in his house it would be folly on his part to wait for the burglar to shoot or maim him without having the first shot.—Justice of the Peace
IT DIDN’T WORK HERE
We came close to having Boris Johnson for Prime Minister. He missed out because Michael Gove forgot the basic rule that a kingmaker can’t make himself, thus leaving us with the worst possible outcome for the shooting sports. As Home Secretary since 2010 Theresa May presided over the creeping hunt-sab approach to eliminating certificate holders and registered firearms dealers ‘by any means’; not to mention the re-write of Home Office guidance to the police to include all sorts of stuff for which there is neither legislation nor court precedents and not forgetting the Policing and Crime Bill provisions – inspired by Europe and she’s already said that she will stick us with everything European until the last possible moment. Which leads us to comment on:
After more than forty years of Conservative Prime Ministers negotiating opt-outs to make sure you don’t benefit from EU membership and then asking us what we thought only to go into a big-time sulk about our answer, we can now see that the next half century will consist of Conservative Prime Ministers negotiating opt-ins! And that still won’t benefit the shooting sports as the Home Office policy of vilifying legitimate law abiding social firearms users at every opportunity is a Home Office policy, not an EU one.
We suspect that the proposals relating to de-acs currently being considered in Europe are British in origin. The basic problem with British firearms policy is that ‘they’ want to reduce the number of firearms in circulation while ‘we’ the public like owning and using firearms for a wide variety of largely social reasons. The ‘they’ in this discussion was a self-appointed committee of policemen under the chief inspector of constabularies in the 1960s. The resultant McKay Report in 1972 was never published, although a copy was placed in the House of Commons library in 1997. Before that it appeared as the green paper CMND 5297 in 1973 and although rejected by Parliament at the time many of its proposals became police policies. The 1973 paper was dusted off to become the 1988 Act that banned self-loading rifles and enshrined deactivation in legislation barely a hundred years after the trade started doing it.
The shooting sports are in decline, according to government figures; no boost from the Olympics, since most of the shooting competitions are not open to UK residents as the firearms are prohibited and the venues were temporary anyway, so no legacy either.
Deactivation was brought forth as a way of releasing firearms from the controls – thus to keep certificate numbers down – and now the panic is about having abdicated that control ‘they’ don’t know what the rest of you are doing. It would all have been much simpler if your public servants respected the public they purport to serve. Public safety would be better guaranteed by all those de-acs still being live and on certificates in the system.
Likewise the early cartridge firearms: the 1992 obsolete calibre list is another example of government abdicating control over a class of firearms in order to keep certificate numbers down, followed by panic about those firearms not being on certificates.
‘They’ can’t have it both ways: either certificate numbers must rise to accommodate the demands of the law abiding taxpayers or kept down by releasing firearms from the controls. What doesn’t work is the current dogs breakfast in which the certificate system is operated with a view to keeping people out of it. No other government policy works thus: an overhaul to make a system that works for the public it supposedly serves and is fit for purpose is long overdue. The template is in our book ‘does the trigger pull the finger? Unfortunately, we’re more likely to get it through the courts than we are from our government, as is the American experience in Grace et al.
While thinking about Brexit, bear in mind that British army rifles are made in Germany: a country that refused us military supplies during the Falklands campaign in case that upset their ex-pats in Buenos Aires.
US COURT REPORT
Grace et al v District of Columbia et al.
17th May 2016
Washington DC is that swamp set aside by the founding fathers of the United States for the federal capital. An unconstitutional handgun ban there (which exempted cops and didn’t affect bad guys) led it being dubbed the murder capital of the world in the 1970s, yet wasn’t overturned until 2008.
The case then was District of Columbia v Heller. Mr Heller was a security guard who had a handgun at work. The DC law prevented him having one at home or carrying one off duty. His landmark case challenged DC’s law as a violation of his constitutional rights under the second amendment.
This 1791 amendment is the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ and also refers to a ‘well regulated militia’. This phraseology did not matter until politicians started trying to control the freedoms of the citizens they purported to serve in public office and then the debate became whether the founding fathers meant that the right was an individual one or a collective one for citizens only when called out as militia.
The common law principle is that you have the right to defend yourself and those for whom you are responsible. The role of militia is the wider defence of the realm, which extends to acting offensively on behalf of the government. The Supreme Court in ‘Heller’ concluded that the right was an individual one, because when the king called you out as militia, you were supposed to come equipped and ready. The ‘right’ to be armed is thus also an obligation to be prepared to the best of your ability.
The District of Columbia didn’t like a court overturning their policy and since 2008 have placed all manner of obstructions in the way of people who sought to exercise the right to keep arms.
Where there is a carry permit scheme, it’s only valid for that state unless reciprocity agreements have been reached. The New Hampshire permit is now recognised in 28 states: New York is not one of them and it stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Canadian border, blocking land access by tooled-up residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont from the other states that recognize their permits.
In DC, the post-Heller concealed carry permit scheme requires applicants to meet a number of criteria relating to good character, health and so forth – more than for being an airline pilot or a police officer – and then the applicant had to take qualifications and lastly had to satisfy the police that that they were in specific jeopardy. That’s similar to Northern Ireland, where being the random victim of a sectarian tit for tat attack didn’t count. You had to survive one attack and prove you were a specific (not a random) target of the assassination attempt to get a carry permit there during the troubles.
DC’s approach seems derived from the British 1920 Firearms Act exemptions, so transporting cash and valuables (which potentially makes you a robbery victim) would count more than being a celebrity. This threshold is what the Supreme Court ruled was a step too far in Grace et al, so DC can keep all the barriers they have dreamed up regarding mental health etc., but can’t use their ‘good reason’ restriction to refuse applicants who aren’t about to be homicide victims.
Interesting. In UK firearms legislation the ‘good reason’ requirement only relates to sporting purposes. Nothing in the Act contradicts the Bill of Rights, yet the UK Home Office has long used the mantra that carrying a weapon to defend oneself on the off chance of being attacked is an inappropriate form of defensive weaponry. That is still being clung to despite having long since been discredited, such as by the police using them. The ‘off-chance’ position came up recently in correspondence with Gloucester police. An SRA member applied for 12 bore slugs to deal with wild boar and while Gloucester will allow a (minimum) .270” rifle for him to carry with that purpose in mind, they won’t allow 12 bore slugs for use in a shotgun for him on the ‘off-chance’ of encountering wild boar while out with the shotgun with a wide variety of other pest species in mind.
That harks back to the 1970s when a (since discredited) Home Office committee decided that there should only be one good reason for each firearm, so that it was easier for a roadside police check to establish whether a firearm was being transported for that good reason or not. The policy fell apart soon enough, but the Home Office is not an organisation that lets bad ideas go if they might have some negative effect on what law abiding taxpayers get up to in their spare time.
PROHIBITED PERSON APPLICATIONS
In 2014 sections 108 to 111 of the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 extended prohibition to include suspended sentences. A ‘prohibited person’ under the Firearms Act may not possess any firearm or ammunition. A firearm is a lethal barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged. Ammunition is the projectile – in its ‘ready-use’ form – that can be discharged from those firearms.
‘Lethal’ is defined in the Scottish air Weapon and Licensing Act 2016 as ‘1 joule’ or about .7 of one foot-pound: so ‘firearms’ for the purposes of prohibited persons includes air guns and the ammunition for them: so lead pellets, darts, 6mm plastic balls etc.
The 2014 Act also extended the list of things ‘prohibited persons’ can’t possess to include antiques – which until then were not controlled by any provisions in legislation. Antique firearms are otherwise outwith the controls, regardless of their operational status, so a shot-out, rusted out percussion tribal musket with a bent barrel is as off-ticket as a mint condition Martini Henry.
To become a prohibited person under the 1937 Firearms Act, one had to be sentenced to three years or more in prison, whereupon the prohibition lasted for five years from the date of release.
A private member’s bill in 1965 – said to be to do with easing the passage of the abolition of the death penalty – extended the five year ban above to a permanent one and applied the five year ban to anyone sentenced to three months or more in prison, effective from the date of release. A provision was enacted for any person subject to prohibition to apply for relief to the convicting court. The 1969 case R v Fordham decided that suspended sentences did not count toward prohibition, deciding that on the key word ‘release’.
In 2010, Derrick Bird’s killing spree in Whitehaven, Cumbria gave rise to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament having another look at firearms legislation and they noticed that Bird had received a suspended sentence in the 1970s and highlighted that as another turn of the screw: hence the 2014 amendment to over-rule ‘Fordham’.
The Home Office under Theresa May (2010-16) became more antagonistic toward people who want to own and use firearms and shotguns lawfully; such people are to be vilified at every opportunity – that’s what your government thinks of your choice of hobby - hence the ‘hunt-sab’ approach to trying to demonize and criminalize your lawful activity and the gun trade’s lawful business.
Segments of the Home Office guidance to police were re-written to expect the police to consider (as contra-indications to firearms ownership) a wide variety of factors, including domestic strife and controlling behaviour, that do not appear as contra-indications in legislation or decided cases. The one case that considered domestic strife (Edwards v Norfolk 1993) is not mentioned, as its conclusions are at odds to those in the new Home Office guidance: nor is the landmark case Joy v chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway (1966) which directs decision makers to the duty to consider any application from the point of view of an applicant and not from that of a possible objector.
Into this mix came the inquest into the murders committed by certificate holder Mike Atherton at the end of 2012. His was an unsettled life pockmarked by police involvement in domestic incidents such that they had taken his guns away more than once until things calmed down: when he got them back he shot three members of his family. That’s where Home Office concerns about domestics and guns come from and gave rise to the policy of whittling down the number of certificate holders ‘by any means’: that Marks Holmes (reported elsewhere in this issue) got caught up in.
Suspended sentences seem to have become more common since 2010. Maybe that’s a new policy too. Back in 1981, a Greater London Council report on women in prison said that most were there for non-payment of fines imposed for crimes that would not, of themselves, have attracted a custodial sentence. The principle of law is that the courts can’t imprison someone for the first time unless there is no alternative due to the seriousness of the crime or the immediate need to protect the public.
Imprisoning people for non-payment of fines evades that principle. So does suspending the sentence, as it doesn’t get the convict into gaol unless they offend again. What it does do, if the suspended sentence is for three months or more, is obliges the police to revoke a firearm/shotgun certificate that is held: at which point we meet Leslie Jardine.
He caught a suspended sentence for fraud by submitting two quotes for a job on different letterheads. The Metropolitan Police revoked his firearm certificate, as the law requires and with SRA assistance Mr Jardine applied to Woolwich crown court to ask for the prohibition to be lifted. Home Office guidance says it should be unless the offence involved violence or firearms.
Fraud is neither: a 1988 case (Spencer-Stewart v Kent) says that a non-violent crime is not evidence of danger to public safety or the peace. How ‘violence’ should be considered in this context is addressed in Edwards v chief constable of Norfolk (1993) and how ‘firearms crimes’ should be considered is addressed in Shepherd v chief constable of Devon and Cornwall (2002). Home Office newspeak guidance does not extend to mentioning these relevant cases, thus leading firearms managers astray.
At the hearing on 3rd June 2016, the judge had read Mr Jardine’s application and supporting documents, discussed the application with the police and the CPS and on reading ‘Archbold’ (the barrister’s bible) he found two mistakes in it, which he referred to editors for correction, saying that in forty years it was the first time he’d found anything like that to correct.
Police attendance at applications is optional. In a case like this, where they would not have revoked the certificate on the conviction but for the requirement of the sentence, they usually tell the court that and stay away. The judge accepted the application as appropriate and lifted the prohibition. The police issued a new certificate against Mr Jardine’s subsequent application a couple of months later.
We assume the utility of this new prohibited person legislation is so that the police have to reconsider erstwhile certificate holders against the new Home Office policy relating to domestic violence, controlling behaviour etc. Somewhat redundant in Mr Jardine’s case, as he lives alone, so when Adam Johnson rocked up with a similar problem and domestic circumstances, we helped him draft his statement and we re-jigged the supporting documentation to show the result in Mr Jardine’s case and the judge’s identification of two mistakes in Archbold.
Adam Johnson’s case was similar but different. He was growing cannabis plants to use the extract for pain relief purposes and the police noticed. This landed him a six month suspended sentence at Truro crown court, to which he applied for prohibition to be lifted. What happened next was beyond belief. Initially the police asked for a delay to the hearing date to prepare their case. Then they provided that preparation in which it was alleged that Mr Johnson had multiple aliases, under one of which he’d previously held a firearm certificate in Northampton, which was revoked after a fraud conviction. They claimed he’d applied for prohibition to be lifted and had been refused.
We reverted to Mr Johnson who said that he was always known as ‘Richards’ until adulthood when he found out (when needing his birth certificate to join the army) that he was registered as ‘Johnson’ at birth. Since then, he has always used ‘Johnson’ for legal purposes, such as his driving licence and he is known to police record by both names after a caution for possessing an offensive weapon ten years ago. The third alias alleged on his PNC is his deceased brother’s name and date of birth and the fourth suggested by Devon and Cornwall police is actually an chap called Gordon who appealed to the high court after failing to gain relief from prohibition at Northampton crown court in the 1990s.
We are used to the current ‘by any means’ policy leading police professionals into over-egging their evidence, but usually from the witness box when it’s harder to counter and thus more likely to sway the court away from the citizen. Blatant false evidence of this sort is rarely committed in writing and when it is they usually go to great lengths to avoid disclosing the material. We prepared a further statement for Mr Johnson, which he swore as an affidavit.
The chief constable sent a barrister to the hearing who described the statement as ‘a mistake’. The chief constable’s only concern was if Johnson was no longer using cannabis as a pain killer, is he using something prescribed that might draw him into conflict with the recent drug-driving policies. “No,” said Mr Johnson, “I’m on the minimum level of pain relief on prescription and his doctor says it will not affect my driving.”
The judge released him from the prohibition, advising him not to re-apply for his firearm certificate. That gives Mr Johnson his air rifles back, a result that made his day. We’d agree with the judge that he should not apply for his firearm certificate back, at least until the dishonest staff have been dealt with and their replacements adequately trained to process his application according to law.
BLAIR GRINDLE – GLOUCESTER APPEAL
A long time SRA member, Blair Grindle has always lived in the Forest of Dean area, as does most of his extended family. His father was a WW2 veteran who liberated various items from Germany while looting his way to VE Day. His 1945 souvenirs feature in this 2016 case. While in Germany he found out about ‘drillings’: a corruption of a German word, it refers to a double barrel side by side shotgun with a rifle barrel beneath; where the ramrod went on muzzle loading guns.
These became a feature of the family. Mr Grindle senior taught safe handing and use of firearms and country pursuits such that Blair Grindle became an all-round countryman and a full time gamekeeper at How Caple Court Estate: working his black Labradors and extending his range to deer stalking in the 1990s.
He in turn taught his son Clinton to shoot – the drilling features again – and young Clinton hoped to inherit the drilling. Mr Grindle switched to factory work in 1993 following the death of the estate owner and by 1997 was more involved in competitive Tae Kwando than in shooting. He and his daughter went to Eindhoven, Holland, to represent Great Britain in amateur championships. This was before it became an Olympic sport so he had to pay for it all. His daughter lost her final and received a silver medal. He did not fight his final as the opponent he beat in the semi punched him as the referee declared his win. That earned him a fractured skull and shattered eye socket.
The local remedy to the pain he was in (in Holland) was cannabis and he used that after returning to the UK and eventually started growing the stuff to make it cheaper. The pain continued until the eventual replacement of the damaged part of his skull with a plastic one. He had fifty plants on the go in his loft – each plant would generate about enough for a week of pain relief – when the police attended with a search warrant in December 2000.
His firearms etc. were seized and he was eventually convicted of growing cannabis. His firearms collection was scrutinized and after prosecution and defence expert reports he was advised to plead guilty to possession of a sound moderator that was not listed on his firearm certificate. It had been on there previously, but was taken off by a firearms enquiry officer who said it did not need to be listed. He was conditionally discharged for two years for each offence.
A few years working abroad intervened before he returned to the Forest of Dean and a small furniture and joinery business. That lasted a year before the landlord sold the place, so he moved on into a gap in the market for pest control services. He had to learn alternatives for where shooting won’t work and took the required exams for poisons, such as phostoxin (gas release tablets for mole runs) and tallinex (strychnine substitute). His son Clinton assisted in the business with his working dogs and ferrets until he was killed in a road accident in 2014.
Pest control work dried up after that, as people did not want to intrude on his mourning, nor risk asking him to take on work that he could not handle alone, but having a lot of experience and qualifications related to game keeping and pest control he planned on setting up a wildlife management company specializing in deer and wild boar. The first step, of necessity, was to see Gloucester about getting his certificates back.
There are two main problems with the administration of firearms legislation by the police. One is that policing has an agenda of reducing certificate numbers ‘by any means’ and the other is that the police don’t have to issue firearm certificates to anyone they don’t trust, so an application was refused fourteen years after the conditional discharges he received had expired.
Herbal self-medication is a victimless crime that, so far as we can tell, has never been cited as evidence of ‘danger to public safety or the peace’. Mr Grindle never sold any of his products and has not used cannabis for at least fifteen years, nor does he knowingly associate with anyone who does. So far as his firearms offence goes, he was obviously foolish to let the police take the moderator off his certificate and if that makes him unfitted to be entrusted with firearms, what does it make them?
The chief constable cited ‘danger to public safety or the peace’ as his ground. In Spencer-Stewart v Kent (Times, 1988) the court took the view that his convictions under the Theft Act 1968 were not violent crimes and were not evidence of danger to public safety or the peace. In 2002, the decision of Shepherd v chief constable of Devon and Cornwall confirmed that the firearms convictions Mr Shepherd had were likewise not evidence of danger to public safety or the peace. The high court distinguished between his shot gun certificate and firearm certificate in that the grounds for revocation are slightly different, so in his case he was allowed his shot gun certificate, not being a danger to public safety or the peace, but not allowed his firearm certificate back on that appeal on the basis that his dishonesty in relation to his firearms could be interpreted as making him ‘otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with firearms’.
So Mr Grindle’s case for appeal was that neither conviction stood tall enough to count as ‘danger to public safety or the peace’ and the court that convicted him set the seriousness of the offences at the lower end of the penalty scale. As reported elsewhere in this issue, a cannabis conviction was not regarded in Truro crown court as sufficient grounds not to allow prohibition to be lifted.
The police offered no new evidence to the court and called no witnesses, but opposed the appeal on the grounds that they did not trust Mr Grindle because when police attended his premises some sixteen years ago in connection with a renewal application, he had a Nazi battle flag displayed on his wall. This was one of his father’s souvenirs and he’d hung it, he said, to get the creases out before photographing it to sell. Concerns about the flag were supported by other Nazi stuff, including CDs and such. One senses transference kicking in, as the man convicted of killing Jo Brand MP possessed similar material.
The judge took an overall view of Mr Grindle, ranging from juvenile convictions to an arrogant disregard for the law, such as not bothering to tell the police that the sound moderator should be on certificate, and came to the view that nothing of itself indicated refusal was appropriate, but added together this was not someone he was prepared to trust with firearms. The one point that he failed to address, and which we would have liked him to, is the passage of time. His negative view of Mr Grindle was based entirely on things in his past, all of which are more than fifteen years ago and the intervening quarter of his life free of law-breaking of any kind did not, it seem, count toward rehabilitation for having inherited his father’s war souvenir flag.
FIREARMS STATISTICS 2016
The Home Office publishes numbers periodically. The latest from National Statistics were published on 30th June and are available on line. In the old days they gave us the number of certificates on issue on 31st December each year, but now it has slipped to 31st March. Caution has to be exercised when trying to draw anything meaningful from the figures due to the number of variables at play.
Those variables include, for example, geography and population density. Then there’s the police force for the area, its efficiency (or otherwise) its prejudices and its approach to its duties under the Firearms Acts. Then there’s the efficiency (or otherwise) of the figures themselves.
Taking the last point first, in the 1980s the number of shotgun certificates on issue in the Metropolitan Police District fluctuated wildly – by several thousand – from one year to the next. At the time, police claimed that the 1981 Brixton riots had caused a huge influx of new applications, but the truth was far simpler. Certificates where a renewal application was in the queue were not counted unless the old certificate was still valid. So if you were due for renewal on 10th January, you would have been counted in the number on issue on 31st December, but if your certificate expired 10th December and your renewal was still sitting in an in-tray on 31st December, you didn’t count at all.
So when the Met got behind, the number of certificates appeared to fall and when they caught up it appeared in the statistics as an increase. In these days where many forces claim to be six months behind and one force admits to taking eleven months, one has to wonder how these enormous pending trays are dealt with by the figures. Then there’s the fact that no force has revised its figures from previous years, so the ‘how’ of data collection in the 1980s and earlier is not the same as ‘now’, making long term trends harder to tease out.
The basic sociology of the law-abiding taxpayers who shoot for a hobby is that it’s a wealth-related social activity. Since the pistol ban in 1997 it has been more an outdoor pursuit than an indoor one. That tends to make target shooting in all its forms seasonal, so Easter to October is busier – and is the focus of most competitions – than is the winter. Game shooting follows the seasons from 12th August to the end of January, while pest control follows certain seasonal norms.
Class/wealth divisions kick in when considering what one is shooting at. Game shooting and deer stalking are both directly and indirectly more expensive to take part in than any form of target shooting and in some areas there is a ‘glass ceiling’ which limits demand to supply. Entry-level .22” target rifle and clay pigeon shooting with shotguns should, by the numbers taking part, reflect the size and relative wealth of the population.
The post-WW2 interest in the shooting sports was largely driven by the increasing wealth, leisure time and mobility of the skilled working classes. The war indirectly generated the formation of numerous shooting clubs – many of today’s clubs can claim to have been founded as demobilizing Home Guard units – and the ‘you’ve never had it so good’ generation took an interest in shotgun shooting, as they could afford to buy cars and American-made repeating shotguns were both affordable and available. The letters pages of ‘Guns Review’ magazine (1960-97) highlight the class tensions: new money complaining that countryside shooting is not available due to it all being inherited by the ‘haves’ and the old money worrying about sales of repeating shotguns to people who (they thought) didn’t have a legitimate place to use them.
The government intervened on occasions, not so much to restrict the shooting sports, but to steer the new money away from imports in favour of home grown products and thus to have some effect on the balance of payments deficit/surplus. The Deer Act 1963 set standards (calibre, velocity and striking energy) that obviously had Holland & Holland’s .240 Apex cartridge in mind as the minimum and so ruled out cheaper American rifles chambered for popular deer cartridges, such as .44 Magnum, .243, 45-70 and 30-30.
The Firearms Act 1965 jumped the minimum barrel length for a shotgun to be exempted from firearms controls from 20 inches to 24. Many American repeaters were made with 20 inch barrels, while most English guns followed Churchill’s 25 inch norm, selected to suit the slower burning Eley powders. Longer barrels also serve as sound moderators; so English guns aren’t as noisy as American ones. Following the 1968 Firearms Act, dangerous air weapons rules set 12 foot-pounds as the maximum exempted from firearms controls. This favoured British-made products that were usually below that threshold and prevented the more powerful German products being imported for a while.
Increased mobility gave urbanites access to the countryside where the war and mechanization had left a shortage of people with the time to undertake pest control shooting. When the late Archie Coats was compiling his book ‘pigeon shooting’, he was one of the few full time pest control shooters in Britain. Clay pigeon shooting was also on the up, as was pistol shooting. The latter was comparatively cheap, especially in .22”, and demand was such that Parker Hale found it worth their while converting WW2 ‘victory’ revolvers to .22” by sleeving the cylinders and fitting a new barrel and target sights. Centrefire pistol shooting was accessible via comparatively cheap war surplus handguns and indoor ranges, many of which started out as .22 rifle ranges. Pistol shooting drew much of its support from the skilled working classes: the 1970s new money.
If one looks at the old figures, the introduction of shot gun certificates on 1st May 1968 caused some 600,000 applications, despite the poor publicity. The number of certificates on issue then fluctuated with an upward trend – 781,900 in 1980, 785,200 in 1981 (that was the Met catching up), 780,600 in 1982 (that was the police panicking about riots and slowing down the grant/renewals process), and 783,400 in 1983.
1988 saw the peak at 882,000 (the government rounded numbers off in the old days) and since then we have the precipitous decline down to 539,194 this year. So what happened?
Winding back to the start in 1968, cleverer people than me believe that about one shotgun owner in four actually applied and that estimate is at the high end. It could have been a lot less, such as one in ten. (When air cartridge revolvers were banned in 2004, less than 5% of what was out there was reflected in FAC applications.) Much of the ‘increase’ between 1968 and 1988 is thus assumed to be owners applying ‘late’ – when they found out about it. When we moved to Pembrokeshire in 1986, the convention among farmers was one certificate per family, and the extended family might have ten addresses. Until 1989, it was a ‘fit person’ certificate: details of guns possessed did not feature either in the application process or on the certificate itself, as is now the case with Scottish air weapon licenses. The market was skewed by the 1988 legislation, which required repeating shotguns to go into section 1 (FAC) controls or section 5 (prohibited) by way of measurements. To stay on a shot gun certificate, a repeater had to have a non-detachable magazine limited to two cartridges, and barrel length of more than 24 inches and an overall length of not less than 40 inches with any non-rigid shoulder stock not counting toward that overall length.
Clay pigeon shooting, which had attracted blue collar workers in the 1960s, trended away from repeaters and that opened the door to European firms who made affordable over/under and side-by-side guns: AYA (Spain), Rizzini (Italy) and Verney Carron (France) to name but three. Repeaters found their niche in practical shotgun until the police set about reducing it to the absolute minimum. Apart from the winnowing of the guns used, the Home Office joined in by shifting the goalposts for club approval. Prior to 1990, members of a Home Office approved club could use any firearm brought to the club by a legitimate owner, but the change in 1990 limited that exemption from the need for a personal certificate to just full and small bore rifles and pistols: that left clubs with no exemption by which to train members in any shotgun discipline.
Fullbore target rifle shooting remained largely middle class. The blue collars came in using war surplus repeating rifles and, denied access to service rifle competitions at Bisley from 1957-82, spawned various other service rifle events among themselves that led to ‘practical’ rifle competitions. We find it interesting that the various gun bans have all been directed at the firearms which brought the upwardly mobile working classes into the shooting sports, while leaving the core Conservative vote’s shooting unmolested – except by carborundum policing.
The 1988 legislation took away service rifles and restricted repeating shotguns to firearm certificate holders with only practical shotgun and pest control being accepted as good reasons: these were the erstwhile ‘good reasons’ for shot pistols and short doubles, already in section 1. The 2002 revised guidance quietly painted ‘pest control out’, thus eliminating the good reason for most of those that made the transition a decade or so before. The administration seems to be renewing FACs with section 1 shotguns kept for pest control on, but blanking new applicants, claiming that pest control is not a good reason.
Next came the handgun bans in 1997, so all the popular sports were hit, leaving the upper crust largely unmolested. That’s another variable. Every other leisure activity in the UK has expanded, as has the population. The increase in motorists, for example, is proportionate to the population as a whole. To be a motorist, one obtains a certificate of competence via a two-part DVLA test. The only health check is eyesight. To be a shooter these days, your physical and mental health, your family and business interactions are all scrutinized in greater depth than if you wanted to be a police officer or airline pilot, or work in the security industry, the armed forces or the space programme: and that for a hobby.
Some leisure activities show an actual - as well as a proportionate – increase in participant numbers. Except shooting: so either there is something wrong with the figures, or there is something else wrong. Either way, the figures suggest that the shooting sports, defined here as engaged in by people who have firearm and/or shot gun certificates, are static or declining: so the numbers of certificates on issue simply don’t compare to any other sport, or hobby, or leisure activity that the population spend their money on.
Our view is that the ‘decline’ is artificially imposed. Shooting derived no shot-in-the-arm from the 2012 Olympics, as handguns are still banned, except for the unelected elite allowed practicing with them to ‘represent’ Britain in competitions. The facilities developed for displaying the shooting sports were demolished afterwards, so what’s left of the shooting sports derived no benefit from our hosting extravaganza: unlike other sports.
Shotgun certificates can be revoked if the chief police officer for the force concerned is satisfied that the holder can no longer safely keep shotguns, in accordance with the Firearms Act 1968. A total of 1,349 shotgun certificates were revoked in the year to 31 March 2016, down slightly from 1,373 in the previous year.
Pre-Hungerford, there were around 2,500 firearms dealerships, about a third of which were retail shops. The 1988 Act expected the police to stop giving RFDs to collectors and allowed them to refuse applicants who were not going ton trade to a substantial extent while clarifying that people who required firearms in connection with another trade, business or profession should be registered. The effect was a drift downwards to sub 2,000 registrations, which was then boosted to nearly 3,500 by the 2006 requirement for registration to sell air guns before slipping back a bit more recently. The most alarming figure is the steep decline in the number of firearms and shotguns held on certificates; now just 1.7 million or half what it was pre-1988. A dramatic fall, trending against everything else in this country that the government isn’t trying to eliminate.
MARK HOLMES APPEAL – GWENT
Mark held certificates from the 1990s without any adverse issues until 2010 when he had an ‘episode’ in which he says he was spiked by an amphetamine drink. He claimed it was a one-off involuntary experience that led to his being sectioned to a mental health facility for a few days for the poison to work through. He was released within a week and without having required any mental health treatment, per se.
The police had taken his guns into safekeeping, to await his getting a clean bill of health. The psychiatrist wanted to see him a year after release to give him that all clear, which she did, but with a throw-away line in her report to the effect that he sometimes misrepresents the facts. That later became a central plank of the police case against his having guns. What she meant by that was not clarified at the time, but it didn’t prevent the certificates being returned in 2012.
Having got his firearms back, Mark returned them to the police shortly after when he went to care for his ailing father; he didn’t want to leave them in his own gun room while away and did not know how long it would be before he got back. It was a few weeks, but it created another police record of them having his firearms and returning them. Mark seems to quite like the drama of these big gestures. What scares him is not being in control, so the amphetamine episode was traumatic, as he did not know what was happening. Also out of control was his daughter: she’s at the back of nearly all the episodes in which the police have become involved between 2008 and 2013. She has since grown up, moved out and been diagnosed bi-polar, which may be a clue.
She called the police to a domestic row in 2008 and to another in 2013: on both occasions because he wouldn’t let her go out. The second time she claimed he was under the influence of something, although a note on the police paperwork says that she made that up to get their prompt attention.
We were surprised then to find a statement made by one of the responding officers, dated some three weeks later, which repeats the amphetamine suspicion without mentioning that it was hokum.
That statement was written about the time the firearms enquiry officer took the guns in for the third time. He gave Mark the choice of a two-year time-out or revocation. Mark opted for the time-out whereupon the police mysteriously cancelled his certificates administratively. There is no power for them to do so in the legislation.
Two years later, in 2015, Mark wanted the certificates back, as per the time out agreement. A different firearms officer required him to start the application process again and then wanted him to get a further clean bill of health from the psychiatrist who signed him off in 2012 – she said she had nothing to add as she hadn’t seen him since – a clean bill of health from his GP, which was provided and blood tests which proved negative for amphetamines and all other proscribed substances that were tested for.
The summary for the chief constable merely suggests that there are sufficient grounds for refusing the certificate: key amongst these was the fact that Mark ticked ‘no’ in answer to the question had he ever had any mental health treatment. She wrote that in August 2015, yet it was February 2016 before the Assistant Chief Constable refused the application, referring to his criminal record, drug and alcohol abuse etc. In October 2016, the police solicitor informed us that they would be relying on Mark’s 1994 drink-drive conviction as evidence of his alcohol abuse. Mark has always denied that he has such a conviction and has never declared it on an application form, without rebuke or any mention of it before its appearance in his bundle. .
Mark discussed the ACC’s decision with his FEO who disagreed with the position taken but had no remedy that he could suggest. Mark appealed to Newport crown court where the case was not heard because the Assistant Chief Constable arrived 45 minutes late. Court officials put another case in to keep the judge busy and that over-ran. The police barrister claimed not to have seen the appellant’s bundle (delivered to the police solicitor two weeks earlier) and asked for costs.
The case reconvened at Cardiff crown court some weeks later where the police wanted a further adjournment in order to produce the police officer whose statement referred to his 2013 drug taking. The judge, having read all the papers beforehand, felt that a fresh psychiatric report might clear things up and adjourned the case for that to happen.
A third hearing finally convened at Newport crown court at which the Assistant Chief Constable’s position was that he did not agree with the psychiatrist’s methodology or conclusions, claimed that the FEO had no authority to make the two year time out deal which is why he saw no need to honour it and didn’t produce the police witness that the case had been adjourned for last time.
The judge was left with a picture of Mark failing to measure up to expectations in circumstances that proved beyond his control. Despite all of these seemingly relating to his (now) grown up daughter, the judge found no safe ground from which to overturn the police decision and dismissed the appeal with no order as to costs.
The trouble with cases like this is that dismissal of an appeal does not draw a line under anything. In the ‘by any means’ landscape firearms appeals currently operate in one has to be wary of cases that go against appellants by way of spin rather than facts. In this case, three police callouts to the house by the daughter were recorded on domestic abuse template paperwork. These reports don’t identify either Mr Holmes, his partner or his daughter as victims of domestic abuse, yet the police evidence in court referred to Mr Holmes partner as ‘the victim’.
There’s also the – as yet unresolved – question about the 1994 drink-drive. We’ve asked Mr Holmes to check that with the DVLA and until they reply to him we don’t know how to advise him to proceed. What is apparent thus far is that the police have grounds for not trusting him, which gives them the ‘otherwise unfitted to be entrusted’ handle from the Act to rely on for refusing his firearm certificate, but he does not measure up to the ‘danger to public safety or the peace’ threshold set by the courts for refusal of his shot gun certificate. This is a case that will doubtless come back to the courts at some point, and possibly sooner rather than later once the facts have been clarified.
(1) The Mint, by T E Lawrence
Col. Thomas Edward Lawrence CB DSO FAS joined the Royal Air Force as 352087 A/C Ross in 1922. This book was written from notes he pencilled during his training days at RAF Uxbridge and briefly some later service at RAF Cranwell in 1925. The style is pretentiously wordy, as though he were self-consciously wrapping the mundane activities he describes in a cloud of verbosity, the sharper to jolt his reader when he quotes his foul-mouthed intake directly. His new chums are a mixture, but mostly ‘working class’: so one describes the way the author talks as ‘toffology’, of which Lawrence says “And in the hut I'm posh, not for my bookish accent (pound note talk) but for having the only active wristwatch.”
Some of his intake are new to the military, but many have past service in the (then) recent Great War in the army or navy.
Writers write for a reason. Lawrence consciously turned his back on fame and made arrangements to avoid benefitting financially from his book ‘seven pillars of wisdom’, and in this book sought to record the minutiae of his experience as an irk. He did not want it published in his lifetime, so although he showed it around, discussed his plans for it in letters he exchanged with his brother and accepted criticism of it from novelist E M Forster (in 1929), he did not expect it to be read more widely and his publishing plan seemed to have been for a very limited edition.
In trying to explain his rationale for joining the RAF and what went on there to a planned, limited audience, he was also explaining it to himself. As to how he got there, he says near the beginning that he was down on his luck: no money, no food, torn shoes. He needed a job and he needed somewhere to fade into the background of.
His need for obscurity can be gleaned from prior events. His well known career track from Oxford University to archaeology in the Middle East led to his role in the Arab revolt in the Great War. After the war, he worked for the Foreign Office and attended the Paris Peace Conference on Faisal’s delegation. He spent much of 1921 as an adviser to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office. What is less well known is that Lowell Thomas featured him in his Arab costumes in photos that accompanied his lecture entertainment extravaganza ‘with Allenby in Palestine and with Lawrence in Arabia’ and that’s what made the previously obscure Col. T E Lawrence famous: a household name via appearing as himself in a stage cameo.
It occurred to us that ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok also struggled with the fame resulting from playing himself on stage. Acting up and embellishing the legend while personally not having learned to live with either his mistakes or his failing health eventually drove him out to the Dakota Territory and death and the hand of a back-shooter in 1876.
So in 1922, Lawrence needed both income and obscurity. He describes his position thus: “My urge downwards, in pursuit of the safety which can't fall further: and the necessary compulsion to relearn poverty.”
At the RAF interview, he claimed to have missed war service due to being interned in Turkey for the duration. The interviewing officer W E Johns (Biggles author) didn’t believe him, his fake name or papers, but Lawrence undoubtedly had Winston Churchill’s patronage and a note to smooth things over. That got him into RAF Uxbridge (the depot) as ‘Ross’.
The title ‘the mint’ is because Lawrence saw the process as that of taking raw material – the men – and moulding (or minting) them into the aircraftmen they would become. In his case, he describes the first few weeks as taken up largely with ‘fatigues’ and then it was all drill in preparation for the Armistice Day parade. The RAF lined part of the route to the Cenotaph and used the most recently trained men for the job: mainly because once graduated from the mint, aircraftmen do their jobs rather than practicing drill. In the event, the call was for all those over 5 foot 8 inches, so Lawrence/Ross, at 5 foot 5½ didn’t go and got guard duty at the depot – for which he had not been trained – instead.
Here are some of his words: he describes the drill instructor as “the ringmaster of our circus” and says, “Some of those who exercise their authority upon us, do it in the lust of cruelty.”
Drill wasn’t his thing; nor parades, which he describes thus:
“It is theatrical, and theatre in England spells circus and circus spells clown.... makes one doubt if an Englishman's blood can ever have flowed hotly enough to swallow a tomfoolery divorced from alcohol.”
Another mention of drill is the phrases “guys stiffen for attention’ and ‘twos into fours git’ are traditional relics of the American army in France.”
Another leftover from the Great War was calling bangers and mash, “Zeps in a cloud.”
On physical jerks:
“Our created shapes being only our accidents until by taking pleasure or pains in them we make them our fault.”
On suicide (after a body was recovered from the railway line)
“Young fellows shyly bred were too often overwhelmed when they tried to breast the whole wave of life at once.”
On getting an afternoon off; (he liked taking the train into London to walk around.)
“I had a craving to lose sight, for a moment, of this camp which has been part bagnio, part ergastulum, and, till of late, wholly disagreeable.” So, part brothel and part slave pit.
“The monotony if their adjectives revolts me.”
In a conversation with ‘China’ (one of his intake who has been pursued to the depot by a woman who wants to marry him)
“China was so moved that he forgot his f and b adjectives.”
When an officer is lecturing them about an air machine:
“He confused incidence with the dihedral.”
We’ll have to look that one up.
On the death of Queen Alexandra (20th November 1925)
“Our distrusted chaplain preached one of his questionable sermons.”
And a sentence I didn't get first time:
“Incidentally, for the near sighted or political, it has a national side: upon the start we give our successors in the arts of air will depend their redressing our eighteenth century army and silly ships.”
He sees the minting process as, not so much destroying individuality, as bringing the intake “instinctively to a corporate life.”
Unmentioned in the book is that it all ended suddenly for him when he was ‘outed’ – identified as Lawrence and forced out of the RAF in February 1923, he dived straight back into obscurity by enlisting in the Royal Tank Corps as T E Shaw. Unhappy in that role he petitioned to get back into the RAF and was readmitted in 1925. He resumed making notes for this book on his posting to RAF Cranwell that year.
Further publicity as T E Lawrence landed on him when ‘revolt in the desert’ was published in 1926 and saw him packed off to an obscure RAF base in India for two years. Back in England, he served at RAF Bridlington until his enlistment ended in 1935. He needed to rationalize his 1922-3 notes into a book and the Cranwell phase in 1925 is a sort of postscript in which he tries to convince himself that he is happy and fulfilled in his RAF role. After that, he adds nothing to this work: his exchanges about it were after he got back from India and publication came after his 1935 death in the 1950s in both sanitized and unexpurgated editions.
The common theme of his post war years was engines. He tells us nothing whatever in ‘The Mint’ about what he was trained to do in the RAF beyond fatigues and drill, but he was working with air machines and in the tank corps with motor vehicles. In his spare time it was motorcycles and he describes in this book racing a Bristol aircraft from Cranwell to Lincoln in fifteen minutes – riding a hundred miles to pick up the best bargains in bacon, dripping, rolls and eggs with which to feed his mess in the evenings.
The lack of good food, and enough of it, features throughout the book. Men buy from canteens to supplement what’s provided and his ton-up shopping trips made a treat for all – that they paid him for – and cooked on the hut stove.
It is said (elsewhere) that he owned eight Brough motorcycles, which is roughly one a year for each year he was in England from rejoining the RAF in 1925 until his death (coming off his last Brough) in Dorset in 1935. He calls his Cranwell bike Boanerges, ‘sons of thunder’ (St Mark 3.17): whether he bought a new one each year, or had more accidents than the fatal one, would take more research and that isn’t relevant to this book review.
What you get if you obtain a copy of this book is an absorbing read about a series of vignettes that were noted down nearly a hundred years ago. Reading this in 2016 at the time when a new verdict of suicide was recorded in the ‘Deep Cut’ case of Cheryl James (aged 18 in 1995) it seemed to us that her experience of that variant of the mint (breasting the whole wave of life at once) was little different to the way it was seventy years earlier. So many of the quotes above would resonate with her and her intake, that one can only think of the harsh process of minting a professional military that both turns out the best armed forces personnel in the world and is clearly also a weeding out process.
One of the reasons it worked so well for Lawrence/Ross is that ‘time out’ he was obliged to take from 1923-5. People who really struggle to cope first time around, but don’t want to fail in their career choice usually do much better at the second go. The trick is having an exit strategy in which they can pull out without flunking out that will allow them a second try after a gap year. In his case, of course, it was involuntary, but it does make the point that a way of taking the pressure off young recruits can be made. Treat the first attempt as the inoculation, and the second go will work much better and produce (using the ‘mint’ analogy) bankable results. The real skill is spotting those who need that detour in their career track, whether they be young soldiers or university undergraduates: “Young fellows shyly bred were too often overwhelmed when they tried to breast the whole wave of life at once.”
It works for special forces personnel: not a few of the best got in at second attempt and therein a lesson for universities and basic training units, where “Some of those who exercise their authority upon us, do it in the lust of cruelty.”
Dead on Time, by John McVicar,
Blake Publishing Ltd 2002
ISBN 1 85782 364 8
Jill Dando died on the doorstep of her Fulham bachelor pad on 26 April 1999. Barry George was convicted of her murder on 2 July 2001 and his conviction was quashed on appeal on 15 November 2007. McVicar’s book, published shortly after Barry George was convicted and long before the conviction was quashed (which he anticipates), is not a study of the crime. It works better if you think of it as a slice of McVicar’s autobiography covering what he was doing around that time, from his lying about his age to an Eastern European student he fancied, through his media involvement as a crime expert on various TV shows to his articles in Punch about it and then his time covering the trial and losing his dog in the River Thames. He was a columnist in ‘Punch’ at the time and the style of his column is also the style of this book.
In passing, McVicar also studies Barry George from the ‘I know who dunnit’ angle and features some less than flattering sketches of the other players in this ‘carry on up the Old Bailey’ caper, including some of the jurors. The police ‘Oxborough’ investigation team come in for a lot of stick, at least in part for their reliance on the computer procedural investigation system ‘HOLMES’. That came out of looking for a better way than the football league style card index system used in the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry, which flagged up interest in the eventual culprit six times and sent officers to see him nine times without connecting him to the general suspect description.
McVicar has nothing complimentary to say about Jill Dando herself, dismissing her as one of a string of pretty faces who could read from an autocue. She’s like the victims in NCIS, CSI etc.: irrelevant to the plot. Her career was starting to wane in 1999: she’d lost some of her anchor work and had announced her engagement, so she would probably have faded off our screens following her planned role in the BBC’s millennium output into some other line of work had a bullet not intervened. The outpouring of grief when she died, which was a mini-version of reaction to Princess Diana’s demise the year before, was pumped up by the media, as one of their own, and that irritated him.
What irritated us at the time was the police fumbling the investigation. They asked for public help about the cartridge used, but failed to articulate what they were asking for. Then they turned up on ‘Crimewatch’ with a pistol, again asking if anyone had bought/sold this pistol etc. long after the handgun ban had kicked in. Jack Straw had said, when pushing for the bans, that the knowledge of firearms in the UK had to be destroyed: so a year later and with Jack Straw as Home Secretary nobody wanted to admit any knowledge that could have resulted in them disappearing into one of the new Labour Government’s gulags for possession of prohibited knowledge.
The choice of pistol was interesting, being a blank-firing type similar to one that Barry George was known to have owned. By the time the Oxborough team got onto Crimewatch again with a ‘profile’ of the killer, they’d already seen Barry George at home and the ‘profile’ seems to have been designed to persuade the public to put Barry’s name up. That, says the author, led to the investigation misdirecting itself. This was the third offender profile to be prepared, but Alison Saunders (DPP London at the time) denied the existence of any of them to the defence, according to Michael Mansfield QC in one of the TV reports.
There’s a distinct lack of continuity in the way the book was put together, so he’ll follow a point into minutiae at the trial, then back out to what he was doing before Barry George was arrested, forwards and backwards. Two eyewitnesses at the scene said which way the suspect left along Gowan Avenue: that direction was, to John McVicar, counter-intuitive (being toward the busier road) and what they saw wasn’t used to construct the ‘e-fit’ of the suspect anyway. Instead, the police made one of the ‘sweating man’ seen at a nearby main road bus stop whom nobody had seen in Gowan Avenue. Another red herring was the speeding Range Rover, now best remembered for highlighting the limited chances that speed cameras had, in the 1990s, of actually reading a number plate. Other sources suggest that more than a hundred potential suspects had not been eliminated from the enquiry a year after it started and when Barry George was charged.
Several witnesses saw Barry George in the area on the day: hardly surprising, as he lived there. Timings are vague, leading to the ‘did he/didn’t he’ have an alibi. He comes into focus arriving at the housing office (HAFAD) without an appointment and making the sort of fuss that caused staff to both remember him and report their suspicions to the police, who ignored them. He pulled the same stunt twice at a nearby taxi office and also left flowers at the scene.
So having inserted himself, by accident or design, into the immediate location and near the right time, he attracted no police attention for ten months, as their computer system did not weight him enough to warrant their time despite the hot tips. Their first search of his digs seems to have been concerned with clothing – the murder weapon has never surfaced – and in their second trawl they arrested him and took everything he had.
Eventually, there were two bits of forensic: a small piece of thread of a type not inconsistent with the thread a pair of Barry George’s trousers were made of that was found on Jill Dando’s coat, and a Cecil Gee coat recovered from Barry’s digs that was found to contain a minute particle of what the crown said was gunshot residue in one pocket. Gunshot residue (GSR) has become ‘firearms discharge residue’ (FDR) in Home Office newspeak, as the word ‘firearm’ continues to be demonised at every opportunity.
McVicar points out that the Cecil Gee coat is nothing like the garment worn by the suspect eyewitnesses saw leaving the scene, nor is it anything like what Barry George was wearing when he attended the housing and taxi offices (or that – different again – worn by the ‘sweating man’). He also notes that the taxi office despatcher remembered Barry wearing a long sleeved yellow shirt on that occasion and none such was found among his possessions a year later.
McVicar’s contribution to the case, according to his book, was to spot the connections between Barry George, his infatuation with the late Freddie Mercury, the yellow shirt, the remark in the taxi office, “look up to the sky” and thus to pinpoint a motive, which was Jill Dando’s friendship with Cliff Richard that somehow put the late Freddie Mercury’s nose out of joint.
He also gives us various options for the meaning of dan-do in Japanese: the accursed dando is a monster in ninjutsu mythology. 1999 was 5760 in the Hebrew calendar – the year of the beast – and Jill’s wedding to Alan Farthing was scheduled for 25th September, the traditional date of Christ’s birth in the old Jewish calendar. Barry George had a Japanese wife, briefly, had learned some phrases and took an interest in ninja literature. What McVicar missed is that ‘dando’ means ‘giving’ in Portuguese (according to Google translate), so he makes nothing of this coincidence. In another coincidence, Jill Dando was on the cover of the Radio Times on sale that week, wearing a leather trouser suit. The back cover had the word ‘murder’ printed on it.
By the time of the trial two years later, McVicar had come to the view that the suspect went the way he did (towards the HAFAD office, or away from where Barry George lived) in order to create the alibi and, since Barry turned up at HAFAD not dressed as the suspect, he must have had a ‘drop’ somewhere to change clothes. He did not have time, in McVicar’s opinion, to go home and change as the Crown suggested he had – that being in the opposite direction.
McVicar makes a note to himself to find it. Then in a conversation he reports in his book it comes up that he has found this location and finally he mentions the location, but says nothing about how he found it or how he concluded that it was the right place to hide the gun and clothing since he doesn’t mention finding anything there.
McVicar makes little of the crime scene evidence. His only reference to the post mortem is that the gunshot caused entry and exit wounds. He makes no mention of the bullet being recovered: several sources mention the cartridge case and particularly the crimp, without understanding what that means.
McVicar says the priming compound was Remington, which he says is about 20% of the market, but he doesn’t say which market. We do learn that it’s a 9mm short case. Neither McVicar nor the investigative reporting type TV shows you can catch on YouTube mention the bullet, so there is no evidence in the public domain to link the cartridge case to the bullet.
Bullets are crimped into the case to be firmly seated, so that they don’t fall out or get pushed deeper into the case when handled. Revolver ammunition is roll-crimped: the case mouth is turned in to hold the bullet and so as not to snag on chambering and the rim headspaces the cartridge. Auto-pistol ammunition is taper-crimped, so that the case mouth headspaces the cartridge – stops it against the chamber step – so that the primer is in the right position for the firing pin. Eastern European pistol cartridges turn up with punch marks around the mouth, serving instead of a taper crimp to hold the bullet in position. The recovered cartridge case had six of these, (Three would be ‘normal’ in Soviet military production) which McVicar associates with the chrysanthemum flower, sacred emblem of the ninja warrior and Imperial Japanese power. The judge said they were hand-stamped.
The gun used is pure speculation. The (now) defunct Forensic Science Service wanted it to be a reactivated de-ac, or a modified blank firer – anything on their hit list for additional vilification, not to mention that Barry George was known to have owned one. That may be why police turned up on Crimewatch waving one of the type Barry had owned in preference to following the evidence. It might not have been a gun at all: a simple tube crimped near one end with a pipe cutter for the cartridge to headspace on with a simple firing pin would have done, in the style of a humane killer or zip gun. Pressure-wise, 9mm short has a lower chamber pressure than .22LR, for which New York gangs made zip guns out of car aerials in the 1950s.
Nearby witnesses did not hear the shot, but 9mm short is subsonic and McVicar says it was a contact wound, so Jill’s head probably served as the primary expansion chamber to absorb the sound; which brings us back to the cartridge case. Nobody mentions whether it had extractor claw marks on it; none would suggest an improvised way of firing it, while claw marks would point towards the weapon type. Officially manufactured Makarov silenced pistols have a slide lock to prevent the action opening on firing. That makes the gun quieter and retains the cartridge case within the chamber. Zip guns likewise. Most improvised firearms don’t come with extractor mechanisms, so the presence of the cartridge case at the scene suggests (a) a weapon that ejected it, leaving marks on the case, or (b) manual ejection, such as to reload or (c) it was there anyway and had nothing to do with the crime.
If one strips the McVicar bits of this book out, what is left is an essay about the police investigation going wrong, although he does not go so far as to suggest they got the wrong man. His only access to the evidence is what was presented to the court, where he would only have heard about evidence that the jury were shown. It is an interesting read for the author’s recollections of contributions he made to speculative daytime TV – for which he was booked because of his ‘expertise’. The problem there is murder is a crime rarely committed by criminals. Women are usually victims of someone they know, five times out of six and most convicted murderers have no prior form.
McVicar’s notoriety stems from his earlier career as an armed robber and prison escapee, in which occupation and pastime practitioners seek to avoid harming anyone if possible. He mentions replacing lead shot for rice in a shotgun cartridge in this book to make that point, so his approach to the geographical clues in the Gowan Avenue area are those he would have taken to planning a robbery – how to get in, how to get out.
That leaves Barry George looking like a patsy – he’d done the opposite by associating himself to the area in close time proximity to the event – i.e. before (or almost before) he could have known about it unless he did it. We think the story broke as a footnote at the end of the 1pm Radio 4 news and led the 2pm bulletin. Jill was shot around 11.30am, so Barry George had been in HAFAD and the taxi office by the time Radio 4 caught up with the story. We need more clues, and having become more attracted to the case than to McVicar’s book, we needed another author.
We turned to ‘the battle to clear Barry George of the TV star Jill Dando’s murder’ (Kindle Edition) by Mike Bourke (sometimes Burke) and Don Hale (OBE), published in 2013. Mike is Barry George’s Irish uncle and was a London bus driver during the period covered by this book. Don Hale was a professional footballer before turning to journalism. Mike Bourke set up the ‘Barry George is innocent’ websites (since taken down) and was sometime instrumental in keeping his incarcerated nephew’s case and appeals in the public eye for most of the time Barry was locked up. We get the impression that Barry distanced him toward the end; so writing this book was about getting it off his chest. Don Hale’s contribution is not clear, but he wasn’t the proofreader.
Mike met John McVicar at the Old Bailey at both trials and quotes from his book quite freely. He also adopted McVicar’s style, but with the more rigid structure that results from his notes being in diary format. There’s a lot less of him in this book, but as an Irishman he comes with the baggage of miscarriages of justices inflicted on Irishmen during the troubles – the Guildford four and the Birmingham six both rate mentions, as does Carl Bridgewater, so he does keep track of his own movements and tells us which bus/train/ferry etc. he was on when getting to and from the court, the prison visits and so on – setting up his alibi just in case. He says Barry was also concerned about a ‘usual suspects’ type arrest, having previously been interviewed about Rachel Nickel in 1992.
The sequence of events through to Barry George’s acquittal in 2008 is peppered with mention of other events and evils, as they played out across the media in those years: George Harrison died, Ronnie Biggs got married, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells were murdered, Dr David Kelly might have been, PC Ian Broadhurst was, as was Ken Bigley.
Other trials and outcomes also stuck in his mind and diary, so Ira Thomas was acquitted (on appeal) of a shooting in which the forensic evidence was deemed unreliable. Jeffrey Archer lost his libel appeal (and his perjury case), Susan May’s conviction was quashed after she’d been in prison for twelve years and Sion Jenkins third trial date was announced for 2006. (He’d been convicted of the murder of Billie Jo Jenkins in 1998 and was acquitted at his third trial). The 7th July 2005 bombings in London took place and Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead two weeks later.
Mike Bourke had no direct access to the police case, so he heard about things the jury saw. The prosecution prepare a bundle of evidence: statements, photographs and copies of documents that are referred to in court. All the participants in court have them – the judge, lawyers, defendants and jurors. Witnesses will have a copy of their own statement and as the case unfolds, the jury are directed to which page the case is on. The press and public galleries don’t see those papers, so they hear what’s said, but don’t see the evidence.
Mike usefully fills in a lot of Barry George background. Barry was a gun magazine reader and not one to recycle newspapers and magazines after reading them, so years old reading matter became prosecution evidence. His access to firearms amounted to 29 attendances at Territorial Army meetings and an attempt to join the Kensington Rifle and Pistol Club, where Peter Brookesmith was secretary at the time. The club’s evidence was that he did not shoot a firearm when he attended.
Mike tells us that the gunshot residue in Barry’s coat wasn’t an exact chemical match to that found on Jill, as it lacked antimony. This point seems to have been overlooked in the trials and appeals. He says that the polyester fibre was too small a piece for the dye to be identified and it was found on Jill’s coat, which had been cut off her body at the scene by first responders treating her collapse as an emergency and left on the ground in the front garden for nine hours before being bagged: so likely contaminated by lots of people after the murderer left.
Motive exercises his mind more than a little. Celebrities are apt to be stalked, although the CCTV from the day suggests nobody was tracking Jill, who was living with Alan Farthing in Chiswick and treating Gowan Avenue (in Fulham) as an office. Quite a few people probably knew she was going there on that day, but any stalker or foreign assassin would have been outside the loop. Mike Bourke looks on the style of the killing as evidence of hatred, so to him it’s more personal that a hired hitman would be, because if Barry didn’t do it, someone else must have. The police hadn’t gotten around all the potential suspects who knew Jill for elimination purposes when they settled on Barry George, who didn’t know her. That leaves a trail of people who might have had personal reasons for ending her life, but the police didn’t follow through on more than a hundred of them.
Mike also considers the several mistaken identity scenarios that emerged, as Jill might not have been the target. The next-door neighbour Richard Hughes’ (who saw the suspect leave the scene) wife was also blond and had the same car as Jill so might be mistaken for her from behind except Jill was four inches taller. Another one was Angela Peppiatt, who lived in the area and had a similar car and hairdo. She was involved in Jeffrey Archer’s libel and perjury trials. These took place several years apart with the perjury trial taking place in the Old Bailey at the same time as Barry George’s trial. There was scuttlebutt around to suggest that Angela was a hitman target, but this did not get into the public domain at the time.
The Serbian connection is mentioned several times, Jill Dando having fronted an appeal for Kosovo shortly before an attack on a Serbian TV station killed technicians and presenters: because she could read an autocue. The cartridge case punch marks instantly remind everyone apart from the police and the experts they consulted of Soviet production and an Eastern European would be familiar with that technique if he had to improvise his ammunition. But why would he? If he took the bullet from the case, did he put it back, or use a substitute. Nobody says. The Soviet Makarov pistol ammunition is rimless 9.2x18mm and the pistols started escaping the collapsing Soviet Union a long time before the ammunition appeared – so American gun writers all test fired Makarovs with readily available .380 auto AKA 9mm short.
Except it’s too narrow, so it doesn’t connect with the rifling, which means that the bullets won’t have rifling marks engraved on them. Our other observation of Makarov pistols is that they are simple blowbacks and the proper ammunition causes a fierce slide velocity. We measured the distance from our Makarov pistol to where the cases landed as 25 metres on test. 380 auto cases went 15 metres; so the presence of the case in the garden, if not a random coincidence, suggests it hit something absorbent after ejection. A left-handed shooter might well have stopped the brass with his body, for example.
Mike Bourke’s involvement and thus his book ends with Barry’s release from custody (which nobody had planned for) at the end of his trial, so to think about the case some more, we turned to another author.
Justice for Jill: how the wrong man was jailed for the murder of Jill Dando, by Scott Lomax.
ISBN 978 - 1844544042
Scott Lomax is described by Mike Bourke as a young journalist, keen to make his way. He paid closer attention in court (but uses ‘splatter’ to describe ‘spatter’) and probably attended more sessions than Mike did, so he tells us the cartridge case was a Remington Peters .380 auto factory case, not previously fired. The six indentations were added manually post-production; speculation is to reduce the noise of the shot. Apparently, the police had never seen such marks before, nor had any of the experts they consulted.
What he says about the bullet is that rifling didn’t mark it. It did exit Jill’s head and made a dent on the door. It was recovered at the scene, so it has proximity to the cartridge case, but he doesn’t record anyone linking the two in evidence and provides no details of the bullet.
If it was a factory case and primer, not previously fired and the punch marks were manually applied post-production, one has to wonder why. If one pops the bullet with a kinetic bullet puller (such as to alter the powder load) and then one reseats the bullet manually, the tension of the taper crimp will hold it.
The Crown says it wasn’t a re-used case, we’re left wondering why there’s such a dearth of information in the public domain about the one piece of evidence that the murderer left at the scene. Since the case was a Remington Peters 9mm short, was the bullet one of the type they load into such cases? And if bullet and case match, wouldn’t adding a punch increase chamber pressure?
The police will naturally keep some information back when they think they’ve got something only the perpetrator would know that may trip a suspect up in questioning. The other reason for not explaining such details is that they don’t know. The .380 auto has a long history. It was a popular cartridge for both policing and military use in Europe through both world wars. A lot of the smaller framed pistols, Beretta M1934, Walther PPK etc. were made in both this and .32ACP (7.65mm). It was the 1960s before 9mm parabellum started to catch on as a pistol round in policing circles.
We know from McVicar that the interior of the house was searched at some point, as he (naturally) remembers mention of semen stains on the mattress. Mike Bourke says Jill’s clothes were given to a charity shop, so no attempt to match the fibre to her own clothing to the suspect thread was possible and nobody tells us whether Alan Farthing’s wardrobe was checked – after all, she’d come from there that morning. Scott comes up with another mistaken identity option – that of Jill’s sister, whom he says might have been intending to go to the house that day. She was en route home from Europe and was in Calais that day.
Scott is the most thorough when dealing with the successful appeal. Mike Bourke was distanced from Barry George by then and McVicar had already published. The problem at the original trial was that innuendo pointed to Barry George. Beyond that, the evidence took second place to both sides using high profile theatrical lawyers. The only hard evidence left at the scene were the bullet and case – if they match. Surprising then that so little was made of them. The fibre could have come from anywhere and the supposed gunshot residue found in a Cecil Gee coat pocket at Barry George’s digs didn’t have the same chemical signature as that found at the crime scene. It was a tiny piece. There’s probably more FDR to be found in Court 1 from other case exhibits, but since this bit of nothing was the lynchpin of the prosecution case, the defence attacked it as contamination. There were armed officers at the search of Barry George’s digs, according to one witness, so they could have brought contamination with them. The coat was photographed in a studio where firearms etc. from other cases had been photographed. The residue gets everywhere, even without direct contact with firearms. Nevertheless, prosecution witnesses held firm that contamination was unlikely.
They sang a different song at the second appeal, downplaying the significance of this evidence. In effect, the evidence was neutral, helping neither way and it was the trial judge who built up its importance for the jury - is how Scott says they put it. Without it, nothing connected Barry George to the death but that which he’d inserted into other peoples’ recollections himself: his proximity, things he’d said. And the case against him, such as it was, collapsed.
He’s not the first person to have become a suspect by inserting himself into police thinking. Jeremy Bamber called the police to say there was a problem at the family home, then met them outside and waited several hours with them for dawn, when the police went in and found the family dead. Then the crime scene was trampled over by more than sixty visitors before any forensic investigation began. Jill Dando (like Dr David Kelly, later) was treated as an emergency through to her body being removed to hospital before someone decided it was a crime scene, by which time a lot of people had left their footprints in her garden.
Two eyewitnesses described the suspect they saw leaving. Nobody saw him hanging around beforehand, despite which the inside of the house does not seem to have been investigated as the place where the gunman could have lurked, undetected by passers by, for hours or possibly days. The police e-fit was of a man not seen in Gowan Avenue. The firearm was never recovered, but if it didn’t have the appearance of being a firearm, would search personnel have spotted it?
Our interest in such cases is that they prove the point that banning the sporting use of handguns by law-abiding taxpayers does not stop firearms crime. The handgun bans actually spawned increased criminal interest in firearms. It’s a well-known unintended consequence. The sociology is this: when the scrote community thought that handguns were ‘available’, they weren’t interested in cobble-ups, toys, replicas etc. ‘cos if it doesn’t work it’s like taking a banana to a gunfight. Better being unarmed than getting into a confrontation while armed with a banana against a worse villain or an outraged taxpayer who has a real gun. Interestingly, the biggest armed gang in town – the police – don’t seem to feature on their radar.
There have been a series of crimewaves resulting from bad guys wanting cobble-up guns since the handgun ban. Several people had a go at reactivating Mac 10 pistols. The first one had to solve the engineering problem that caused them to be deactivated in the first place – they didn’t work – so he had to strip off all the deactivated parts and make new ones, then figure out why it didn’t work and solve that problem by which time the police were on to him. The later attempts, one was a police special constable who, it seems, was being run by secret squirrel and the other bought blank firers and attempted to convert them. It would have been cheaper to start from scratch.
After the handgun bans, air cartridge revolvers started turning up with adapters in the cylinder chambers that enabled the revolvers to be used with .22 ammunition. Brocock altered their product to prevent this happening (the sleeves were commercially made in a free country to enable .38” users to practice with cheap .22 ammunition) but the government prohibited Brococks anyway so the bad guys turned to converting Makarovs. These are available in Europe without restrictions as paintball guns, teargas guns etc. so they have been re-worked abroad and smuggled in, and usually in .380 auto. Genuine Makarovs escaped the collapsing Soviet Union from 1989 and on, but the ammunition was hard to get, hence the widespread use – by gun writers and crooks – of .380 instead of 9.2x18mm.
The case itself still bubbles on, but not in police circles. They are stuck, the same as everyone else, by not having any new evidence and in this case there has never been a motive that has stood whatever scrutiny it has been tested with. Jill Dando’s murderer is as unidentified as Jack the Ripper.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN DALLAS?
12.30 local time in Dallas Texas on the 22nd November 1963 is a much-studied moment in history. The presidential limousine carrying John F Kennedy and Texas state governor John Connally and their wives turned into Dealey Plaza. Abraham Zapruder started his 8mm colour silent movie camera and recorded the car passing below his position. During that time, shots were fired striking both the President and the governor.
We discussed the case with Massad F Ayoob when he was in England teaching his ‘Stressfire’ programme in 1995 and we visited the scene in Dallas, Texas in January 1996 – as conveniently both the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET) annual conference and the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) show were in town.
We conducted a number of tests in 1995/6, having acquired several Carcano rifles. We also modified a Smith and Wesson Victory revolver for tests. We didn’t publish anything at the time because the Handgunner magazine we took to the SHOT Show hot off the presses was the last ever edition. Editor Jan A Stevenson was not satisfied with the Warren Commission report at the time of its publication, primarily because of the bullet found at Parkland Memorial Hospital on the stretcher used to take Governor Connally to the emergency room.
Massad F Ayoob took the view that had Lee Harvey Oswald lived, a jury would probably have convicted him of the murder of Dallas policeman J D Tippit. He was less confident that the evidence would have supported a conviction for the Kennedy assassination.
For good reason: 2,000 and more books on the subject, not to mention the 26 volumes of evidence supporting the Warren Commission report and Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ movie, many of which want Lee to be innocent. We had problems with a lot of that; (any theory should be at peace with all the facts) so our approach was that we would have taken as Lee Oswald’s defence expert witness, had he been arraigned. In the 1990s, nobody was ready to look at this case from that perspective. The Warren Commission Ballistics input all came from lawyers.
To be fair to the American Bar, investigating is what district attorneys do, so in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and firearms experts, they worked up their conclusions about what happened. The Warren Commission approach has no counter-balance: that which Oswald’s defence team would have worked up if seeking to challenge the peoples’ evidence. The other problem is that they tried too hard. Instead of using the evidence to track their way to the facts, they got involved in trying to head off the early conspiracy theories and in so doing made the whole thing a lot more complicated.
There were two associated deaths that day in Dallas, as JFK was mortally wounded at 12.30 and Dallas police officer J D Tippit was shot to death less than an hour later. Lee Harvey Oswald was initially the suspect in the Tippit murder. He was arrested about half an hour after it had been reported. He was identified by eyewitnesses at the crime scene and subsequently spotted emptying cases from his revolver, discarding his jacket and entering a movie theatre without paying.
One has to feel for the Dallas police department. One of their own was slain, along with their President and the state governor was badly wounded. They got stuck into the investigation, supported by badge-holders from other departments who were there. Cine-film from the day show a police officer with his revolver drawn running toward the grassy knoll. He found nothing there that related to the case. Eyewitnesses including Howard L Brennan had seen a rifleman at the 6th floor window and the book depository was quickly locked down. An employee check showed that Oswald was missing, so an alert was put out to find him, using Brennan’s description.
That’s what J D Tippit was responding to when he stopped a pedestrian in Oak Cliff. This officer had joined the department in 1950. In WW2 he served in the US 17th Airborne Division, gaining a bronze star in ‘operation varsity’ - the Rhine crossing in 1945.
There was a brief conversation: Tippit in the driving seat and the suspect talking to him through the passenger window. Then the officer got out of his vehicle, whereupon the pedestrian drew a revolver and fired several shots hitting Tippit four times. Eye witness Domingo Benavides said the officer had drawn his revolver and fell on top of it. The suspect ejected cases as he fled, of which four were recovered, two by eyewitnesses who subsequently identified Oswald.
Oswald was arrested in a cinema shortly after, carrying a loaded Smith and Wesson ‘victory’ model revolver number V510210 and five additional cartridges. He had a holster for his revolver but had left that in his room. A paper trail shows him buying it under an assumed name. His ammunition was a mix of two headstamps, all factory loads and readily available over the counter at all sorts of retail outlets.
The ‘victory’ model had been professionally re-worked: the barrel shortened from five inches to two and a quarter and the chambers milled out to take American .38” Smith and Wesson Special cartridges. As a ‘victory’ model, the chambers had originally been cut for the British .380”, which is shorter and slightly fatter cased than the Special. Firearms chambered thus also have different calibre barrels: the British cartridges are .359”, while American .38” specials are .357” calibre.
Hence the bullets recovered in autopsy not having rifling marks to match to the gun. They didn’t match each other and test-fired rounds likewise did not record consistent marks from the barrel. Nevertheless, the recovered cases would have a distinct fire-forming from the head for the 19mm of ‘original British’ case length, which would make a match, as would the hammer mark on the primer, so in a ‘points to prove’ test, the spent cases ejected at the scene linked the revolver Oswald was arrested carrying. The Warren Commission reported that the cases were matched to the revolver, but not how. Our explanation comes from our tests.
Nothing is straightforward in this case: conspiracy theorists will say that Oswald could not have arrived at the crime scene until after the shooting, but that’s an issue of a few minutes either way by people using different timepieces or ways of estimating the time. The clear forensic connection between the revolver he was carrying when arrested and the cases at the crime scene means if Oswald didn’t do it, someone else did and slipped him the gun afterwards. Without the cases left at the scene, the evidence was circumstantial: with them, it was persuasive, although that came later. Oswald was charged with the murder of J D Tippit on the day, the investigators being satisfied with the chain of eyewitnesses that he was the guilty party.
The function of a defence expert in a firearms case is firstly to check the prosecution’s evidence and then to explain it to the defence lawyers, pointing out any inconsistencies or weaknesses in it in the process. In Tippit, the forensics are tidy and assuming the defence expert gets the same result on his tests, there would be nothing technical to contest in the prosecution’s findings. Oswald did not deny possession of the revolver found on him when interrogated. Policemen who seized it from him marked it with their initials for chain of evidence purposes, so the connections were all sound.
Back at Dealey Plaza, police found three spent cases in the 6th floor room where Oswald worked. A crime scene investigation found a bystander who may have been struck by debris and a kerbstone likewise. At Parkland Memorial Hospital, a spent bullet was found on the stretcher that was used to get Governor Connally from the limousine to the emergency room. The continuing search of the 6th floor room found a Carcano rifle number C2766, containing a live round in the chamber and a bag eyewitnesses saw Oswald bring into work that morning, into which the rifle would fit if the action was dismounted from the woodwork.
The FBI established (on the day) that the rifle was bought mail order by ‘A Hidell’ from a Chicago company. Documents in Oswald’s room showed he’d rented the box and he had an ‘Alek J. Hidell” selective service card in his wallet when arrested.
Police went to Marina Oswald and asked for the rifle. She showed them the blanket it was stored in, which proved empty. Police got two photos from her showing Oswald holding the rifle and wearing a handgun in a holster while holding two newspapers. Oswald said the photos were fakes, his head on someone else’s body.
The documents identifying Oswald as Hidell and thus the buyer of the rifle was sufficient for a holding charge of murdering John F Kennedy to be put to him after midnight, after which the interrogation stage of the justice process concluded and arrangements were made for his transfer to the county jail.
That plan fell apart in the police garage when Jack Ruby stopped by to shoot Oswald with a hammer-shrouded .38” Special Colt Cobra that he usually kept in a bank coin sack in his car.
The early stages of the investigation were marred by inter-departmental rivalries, although you won’t detect that by reading the Warren Commission report. The FBI wanted to take the lead in the investigation, but had no jurisdiction and Oswald was initially the suspect a local police homicide, not of the President. By the time he became a person of interest in that enquiry, he was already in custody. The FBI settled for investigating the firearms and did sterling work that same day to generate questions for Oswald’s interrogators to put to him.
The Secret Service regarded the President as their responsibility, dead or alive, and on the ‘leave no man behind’ principle, acquired a coffin, put him in it and took him back to the Air Force One aircraft so that he left with his widow and the new President Lyndon B Johnson.
That denied Dallas medical examiner Earl Rose a cadaver to autopsy. The body went to the Bethesda Naval Hospital where the autopsy of JFK was not to the standards it would have been if undertaken in Dallas. They didn’t have the coffin the body left Parkland in (The Secret Service had to smash the handles off it to get it into Air Force One, so a new coffin was acquired in DC and any forensic in the first one went to the bottom of the Atlantic where they dumped it.) or (to begin with) the Hospital medical notes.
Abraham Zapruder recorded Kennedy’s last moments on 8mm film. He started filming as the motorcycle outriders rounded the corner: he stopped at frame 132 when he realized the limousine wasn’t in sight, started again at 133 when it was and then kept going until the limousine left the scene under the triple underpass bridge. About twenty six seconds of film, recording at about 18 frames a second: give or take.
To make sense of what happened, one has to reconcile the physical evidence to the Zapruder film. That starts with the rifle and three spent cases found in the sixth floor room where Oswald worked. There’s the one recovered bullet found on a stretcher at Parkland Memorial Hospital, various fragments from the casualties and the vehicle, and some non-penetrative damage to the limousine windscreen, caused from behind. There’s the wounds sustained by Governor Connally and the autopsy of John F Kennedy.
Working backwards through the Zapruder film, frame 313 shows the impact on Kennedy’s head, which is regarded as the final shot. Frame 224 shows the lapel of Connally’s jacket flipping out of the way of the bullet exiting his torso, as Kennedy emerges from behind the road sign raising his arms into the Thorburn position, both men having been shot through at frame 223. The time lapse from 223-313 is about 4.8 seconds.
Kennedy is smiling and waving before disappearing behind the sign at frame 205, so is apparently uninjured at that point, just over a second earlier. Governor Connally said he was looking to his left when he heard the first shot and immediately turned to his right. That movement is captured starting at frame 160, or two and a half seconds earlier, so if Connally is correct in his evidence, the time lapse from the first shot to the third is around eight seconds.
There is no evidence of a bullet strike on the vehicle or the people to confirm a first shot, although down the street James Tague was struck on the cheek by something and a search around where he was standing spotted the damaged kerbstone. The FBI’s examination found lead and antimony but didn’t stretch to claiming it was a bullet strike from that day. Tague believed he was hit by the second shot, as he didn’t see the headshot strike.
So on the face of it, Oswald bought the rifle, smuggled it into work, was seen with it at the window and taking the shots, fled the scene afterwards, killed a policeman who suspected him of something and then denied everything in interrogation. Theories that make Oswald a patsy, fall guy, stooge or innocent have to ‘alter’ or discount these facts. Author Flip De May (2016) for example, decided that Brennan couldn’t see Oswald from where he was photographed standing, which means he made up the description of the gunman etc. etc.
The bolt action Carcano rifle was made in 1940 for the Italian army chambered for the 6.5x52mm rimless bottleneck cartridge. The ‘Mannlicher’ addition to the rifle’s designation in the context of this case comes from the six-round clip with which it is loaded being a Mannlicher design. To load the rifle, open the bolt and press the loaded clip into the magazine. A central spring arm serves to push the cartridges up for the bolt to catch and once the clip is emptied, it is pushed out of the bottom of the magazine by the next clip being loaded in.
When recovered, the Oswald rifle had an empty clip in the receiver and a live round in the chamber, so he could have fired again. The FBI tests calculated 2.3 seconds to reload, which takes us from frame 313 to around frame 360, at which point Secret Service agent Hill is climbing onto the trunk lid of the limousine: Mrs Kennedy is also climbing onto the trunk lid from inside the vehicle and John F is slumping out of sight. He didn’t have a shot at that moment, nor subsequently, as Mrs Kennedy and then Agent Hill obstructed his view.
The proposed sequence is a miss at frame 160, recorded by Connally snapping his head round: then the shot that cut through both men at 223/4 and the head shot at 313; just over eight seconds of shooting. The first shot was probably a negligent discharge, him catching the trigger while sliding the rifle into position. That went wide and might be what hit the kerb and James Tague. The second shot (3.4 seconds later) – the ‘magic’ bullet - just missed Kennedy’s spine and came out through the knot in his tie, entered Connally near his right armpit, exited near his nipple, disrupting his lapel as it went on, tumbling, through his wrist and into his leg. The holes all line up with each other and draw a line back to Oswald’s window. You can see in the Zapruder film that both Connally and Kennedy are reacting together at frame 223. It’s one shot from behind and above.
What Jan A Stevenson didn’t like about this when he read the Warren Commission report was the bullet being found. That is rare in any incident involving a rifle, but not unheard of and in this case explainable. Put your hand inside a jumper and push away from your body with a finger. You’ll be able to stretch the clothing much further than you could your flesh, such as by pushing against your abdomen with the same finger. The bullet had been through two torsos, tumbled sideways and gone through Connally’s wrist before it hit his leg. It had sufficient force to penetrate his flesh, but did not go in deep enough to split the cloth of Connally’s trousers, so when he was lifted onto the stretcher at the hospital, whoever got his legs would have been pulling his trousers straight and that ejected the bullet onto the stretcher.
Until the head shot at frame 313, Kennedy has been slumping to his left, his back stiff and his arms locked in the Thorburn position caused by the trauma of the bullet just missing his spine. The head strike caused all his muscles to tense for a moment as it destroyed his brain and then unlocked the Thorburn. He pitches back and to the left, as repeated many times by Kevin Costner in the movie. You would too, and you’ve probably done it if you have slipped on ice. As you slip, all your muscles tense. Back muscles are stronger than front muscles, so your head is pulled back and despite walking forwards at the time, you go off balance backwards.
In our tests, we made crude heads from melons encased in plaster of Paris and despite through-shoots we got more melon spattered in our direction than away from us. This is reflected in the Zapruder film, as Mrs Kennedy climbs onto the trunk lid in pursuit of what turned out to be a piece of skull.
The FBI linked the brass cases to the rifle to the exclusion of all other rifles and the recovered bullet likewise matched the rifle. The empty cases exhibited signs of multiple extractions, suggesting that Oswald had practiced cycling the bolt using those rounds. No others were found in his possession.
The function of a defence expert in a firearms case is firstly to check the prosecution’s evidence and then to explain it to the defence lawyers, pointing out any inconsistencies or weaknesses in it in the process. In this instance the recovered bullet had rifling marks linking it to the rifle. The cases would link to the rifle by examination of firing pin and extractor marks.
The chain of evidence connects Oswald to the rifle, the rifle connects to his workplace, and a bullet from the rifle connects it to Connally’s stretcher. There is no evidence to suggest a second shooter. None of the conspiracy-type objections to Oswald shooting his own rifle detract from that chain. The conspiracies are that he didn’t act alone, so he was in someone’s chain of command; or that he didn’t act at all and was set up as a patsy.
The most successful conspiracies are of silence. The small group that took over Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire in 1938 had swollen to an army of more than 10,000 people working in huts that would have looked like a POW camp from the air by 1945. A year later, they’d all gone, their machines dismantled and it would be 1970 before the government itself broke the silence and told us that Bletchley Park had been the code and cypher school where the German Ultra code was deciphered. All those people and not one leak, so a conspiracy involving thousands of people is possible, if they have a common purpose and nobody breaks faith with the objective.
Everything published about Oswald says loner, lone wolf: a man who had difficulties with authority and really struggled to form any kind of relationship with anyone.
Not someone you could form a conspiracy with or include him in. You couldn’t trust him. This is a guy who kept the adverts for the guns he bought, as well as the paper trail linking him to the name Hidell: he had an ID card with that name on it in his wallet when arrested and paperwork in his apartment showing that he’d rented the box address to which the rifle was mailed. All of which sped the FBI investigation along. He had nothing linking him to anyone else other than his estranged wife, some previous addresses and his one-man fair play for Cuba campaign. What he could do was keep secrets. He was not one to confide in others.
Had he lived, the powers that be wouldn’t have been looking for anyone else in connection with the Kennedy assassination. As with the revolver that shot Tippit, Oswald was connected to the rifle as purchaser. It was found where he worked and he wasn’t. He’d started running although didn’t seem to have a plan. Massad F Ayoob expressed the view that Oswald was probably guilty of killing J D Tippit. There are conflicting eye witness accounts and the question of whether he could have got there in time, but none of that would blind a jury to the fact that when arrested he had the murder weapon on him.
In the brief interviews for television while he was in custody, Oswald comes across as loving the attention. Had he lived, it would have been to enjoy a central role in the theatre of the judicial system. One has to wonder: would he have taken the prosecution on, thus becoming exposed as a pathetic loner as they proved their case or would he have pleaded guilty and adopted the role of martyr to whatever cause not having Kennedy in the Whitehouse benefitted from.
We suspect the latter. What Americans like Jan A Stevenson and Massad F Ayoob have in their common suspicion that something is wrong with the Warren Commission conclusions is a fundamental distaste for a lone nut with the worst choice of WW2 surplus rifle being able to change history so easily. Everyone would prefer a conspiracy to a flake, but the physical evidence doesn’t stretch to one and at the time of writing, any ‘ISIS’ terrorist attack in Europe or the US is more likely to be an inspired flake than a Middle East conspiracy.
The JFK movie worked off the theory that the Carcano couldn’t do the shooting, at least not all the shots, so they added more firing points and increased the shots fired to six. Central to that is denial of the magic bullet theory, thus to separate the torso hits on the two men by a second or two, yet the Zapruder film clearly shows both men reacting at the same moment to the same bullet at frame 223/4. Any theory that depends on avoiding a fact, or claiming that fact has been faked, is doomed.
Returning to the rifle, it was also claimed that the telescopic sight wasn’t zeroed. Hmm. Quite a few people handled it between it being found and test fired. It had an offset (to the left) 4-power scope. Oswald had served in the United States Marine Corps and qualified in a shooting test with the Garand M1 rifle. Twice. The first time he scraped into the bottom end of the middle bracket: the marines have a sliding scale marksman-sharpshooter-expert, so at the end of his rifle course, he qualified as a sharpshooter. Two and a half years later, his score just scraped into the bottom of marksman.
The USMC evidence to the Warren Commission doesn’t say whether he’d had regular shoot practice between these two events, just that he’d been familiarised with other weapons in general marine use at the time. Overall, he was thought to have been at least average and served in a unit in which rifle shooting was not their principle utility. What’s missing from their evidence to the Commission is his medical: we’d like to know what his eyesight was recorded as when he joined.
His M1 shooting would have been over open sights. He was not trained on a sniper rifle in the service, so had no riflescope training beyond recreational use of his brother’s .22” rifle. Second Chance body armour inventor Richard Davis set up a test rig at his company’s annual bowling pin shooting competition in the wake of the JFK movie to see who could make three shots from a Carcano count from a tower at a distance of 88 yards.
Ayoob said that two of the best were left-handers. They shouldered the rifle on the left shoulder, supporting it with a straight left arm and the cardboard box arrangement that the assassin left a crease in and worked bolt and trigger with the right hand. Three shots in five seconds can be done; shot 1 starts the clock; 2.3 seconds to work the bolt, take shot 2 and then another 2.3 seconds to shot 3: five seconds in all. And the Zapruder film allows three more seconds. They couldn’t use the telescope with the stock on the left shoulder, but at 88 yards the iron sights would do perfectly well.
The target was moving, so although no adjustment needs to be made for bullet drop at the distance, an eleven-mile-an-hour car is doing 16 feet a second, or 1.6 feet in a tenth of a second. The bullet is doing around 2600 feet a second or 260 feet in a tenth of a second and the distance from the 6th floor window to the point at which the headshot struck is 88 yards – 264 feet – so the shooter would have to aim off above what he wanted to hit.
The only other rifle known to be at the scene was an M16 lying on the rear seat of the vehicle behind the Presidential limousine. Author Bonar Menninger (Mortal Error, 1992) postulates that this rifle was negligently discharged as it muzzle-swept the Presidential limousine when the Secret Service agent picked it up in reaction to the gunfire.
For that to fit the facts, the 6th floor shooter’s last shot would have been at frame 223 of the Zapruder film, so if he fired a miss at frame 160, there’s a spare cartridge case. The ‘Mortal Error’ book suggests that this was a previously fired case kept in the chamber as a snap cap. The FBI told the Warren Commission that the recovered cases exhibited multiple extraction marks as though dry-cycled. If one of the cases had been used as a snap cap (the firing pin dropping on it multiple times), they should have noticed and said so. That’s the sort of thing a defence expert would have checked and without that checking on, as it were, Oswald’s behalf, any deficiencies or cover-ups in the FBI’s work pass unnoticed.
So, the grassy knoll: we know from cine-footage that a policeman at the scene went for the picket fence revolver drawn in the initial confusion about where the shots came from. Alan J Summers places erstwhile Shooters’ Rights member Bob Kleasen (31 years old at the time) behind that fence with a .22” Raylock rifle adapted to .22” Hornet in his 2008 book ‘The Grassy Knoll Badgeman”. However, the badgeman theory is based on a colorized blow-up of Mary Moorman’s (or was it the Babushka lady’s) Polaroid photograph and if you stand where that photo places the supposed shooter he couldn’t see the President at the moment the headshot impacts. There’s a substantial block of decorative stone in the way: Zapruder was standing on a similar block at the other end of the pergola. In the movie ‘JFK’ Oliver Stone gets around that by moving his ‘badgeman’ nearer to the road. That gives him a shot, but places him where he would have been in clear view of dozens of cameras had he stood there and thus disrupts the facts.
Alan Summers also identifies ‘the Babushka lady’ (opposite the grassy knoll and to Mary Moorman’s left) as East German spy agent Tania there with a .25ACP auto pistol in her camera with Che Guevara’s blessings. She missed as well, at least in his book. Kleasen’s involvement is derived from his various comments one bitterly cold night in Scotland where the deer stalking party spent the night in the bar, as that had a log fire and the hotel had no electricity. Kleasen was a born liar, but some of his rants that night turned into a novel and others may yet appear as more bedtime reading.
There’s never going to be a conclusion to the Kennedy assassination until that dreadful Day of Judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed. In the meanwhile, none of the ‘Oswald was innocent’ theories have been able to dislodge the solid police work undertaken on the day. That might change, so we continue to keep an eye on developments.
THE MAC 10 REPORT
The MAC 10 was a 1964 design made by the Military Armaments Corporation until they went bust in the 1970s due to US government export controls on suppressors.
Chris Perkins aspired to make firearms and in the 1980s, acquired a MAC 10 on his firearm certificate and reverse-engineered it, using computer aided design software. He was a probationary policeman in Sussex until he got married: that being a move requiring permission in those days and leaving was the alternative to not getting married.
His innovation was to design his MAC 10 for Uzi magazines; this is a difficult part to make from scratch and most manufacturers buy them in from a specialist company in Italy. The ‘original’ MAC magazine was derived from a Swedish design and is not in use with any other firearm; so chances are nobody makes them. His MAC 10 took shape as a 9mm open-bolt pistol with a detachable ABS shoulder stock and threaded for the Sionics suppressor.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 crossed his path, shifting self-loading rifles into section 5 and containing the interpretation ‘rifle includes carbine’. Home Office guidance to the police – a restricted document since 1969 – was being edited for publication and when the 1988 Act intervened, was hastily re-worked to accommodate it. That document suggested that ‘carbine’ included the Uzi but did not include stocked pistols, such as the Mauser broomhandle.
Uzi didn’t make a carbine: they made a submachine gun, a large frame pistol and a small frame pistol. The difference between a 9mm Uzi large frame pistol with a wooden stock and 32 round stick magazine and an artillery luger with a wooden stock and a 32 round snail drum magazine is entirely cosmetic.
Nevertheless, the (now) defunct Forensic Science spent public money liberally trying to weed what they perceived as violations of ‘their’ legislation out of the firearm certificate and registered dealer market.
Chris Perkins obtained a barrister’s opinion about his product. The view taken in that was that it was a pistol with a detachable shoulder stock and while self loading rifles and carbines were by then section 5, the MAC 10 wasn’t mechanically self-loading: it was self cocking. In a climate in which the Forensic Science Service split hairs, repainted barn doors, altered bench notes and shifted goal posts, splitting the difference between self-loading and self-cocking kept them at bay for several years.
Chris Perkins got a police knock at the door in 1991. Sussex’s finest and Chris’s erstwhile employer had long been puzzled about the company being called ‘Section Five Firearms Ltd’ without having applied for one. In the pre-1988 Firearms Act, firearms were subject to section 1, shotguns, section 2 and machine guns, section 5. Sussex borrowed a MAC 10 from Chris Perkins and sent it to the now defunct Forensic Science Service for assessment. Their ‘expert’ decided that it was, in effect, readily convertible to fully automatic fire. His problem was that’s not an offence, so he was unable to convince Sussex that there was room, for a prosecution.
All firearms are readily convertible from one category to another with a little tinkering. You have four categories – exempt, 1, 2 and 5. As examples, you can shift an antique to section 1 by loading it: a shotgun to section 5 by foreshortening the barrels and a machine gun to exempt by deactivating it.
Not that the F.S.S. cared much; their job was to find ways of getting convictions, so we have long reports about shoulder stocks breaching the spirit of the Act, or only being partly detachable and other such paranoia: all directed at law abiding tax payers who had these on firearm certificates.
They returned the gun to Sussex who gave it back to Mr Perkins, who admired the new tool marks on it. He said that he wanted to make submachine guns and Sussex said OK; apply for the Home Office permit. The agreement struck was that with a section 5 permit, Chris Perkins would not make firearms for the UK domestic market thereafter.
Which he didn’t; two other dealers did, though. One was Guy Savage and the other was David Cook, each buying parts kits to hand fit and finish. Section Five Firearms Ltd was, for business reasons and the death of an investor, wound up and its remaining assets transferred to Realm Defence Industries Ltd in the 1990s.
By 1994, Realm Defence Industries Ltd had, not so much outgrown its premises in Hastings, Sussex, as made the premises redundant by developing business practises, such as the shadow production line. Most parts were subcontracted out and did not become component parts of firearms until finishing and assembly, which only took up as much room as a family car.
Not needing space, but needing registered premises to comply with the ancient statute, Chris Perkins negotiated the use of Richard Law’s place in Wales. Law moved there in 1986 and by 1994 the facility was the SRA’s office, a training base used for courses by five organisations and several freelance instructors, range and clubroom facilities used by four clubs and a venue for SRA and other shooting competitions. Chris Perkins was no stranger to the facility, it being where he conducted live ammunition tests during development. The army approved the range for submachine guns at 15 metres for him.
The planning application for the range attracted no observations from the police after a five month pause: their reaction to the RFD application was a search warrant raid under section 46 of the Firearms Act 1968 and that eventually landed Richard Law an absolute discharge for possessing a shotgun without a certificate: the police approval of the place under section 11(6) having expired a few days before the raid. Needless to say, the renewal application (made in good time) was not responded to belatedly, or indeed at all.
Dyfed Powys eventually sought a truce with respect to their liabilities by providing the RFD etc. in 1992, so when Chris Perkins applied for an RFD at the premises it was already registered with approved security and a section 5 had been issued there previously.
His application to Dyfed Powys resulted in an eventual RFD, but local police wanted the alarm upgraded to a red care system that did not exist in that area. They seemed to have panicked about have an export business in their back yard, so the air was thick with comments about the place being unsuitable and not big enough for a gun factory, not to mention the number of people who came to the premises for other reasons and the lack of ‘perimeter security’, whatever that it.
It all seemed so silly at the time. Security of stock is the responsibility of the registered dealer who is obliged to take reasonable precautions. The police role where the section 5 trade is concerned is to issue the RFD – they have no discretion not to – and thereafter they can inspect the register and stock in hand. The Home Office usually consults them about security and then gets stuck when the police don’t approve it, as in this case, or refuse to go and look, as in Chris’s case in 2011 in London.
So, in 1996, Chris Perkins had an RFD in Dyfed Powys, and the Home Office were getting around the Dyfed Powys obstruction by giving him authority to trade as long as he didn’t store guns at his premises. Restraining lawful trade is something Dyfed Powys have form for: they’d restrained both Jan Stevenson’s and Richard Law’s trade by stalling the RFD application for nearly five years from 1987. The Charter Gun Club, founded in 1986, did not get Home Office approval to use the range they opened in 1988 until 1992.
The Dyfed Powys solution to the section 5 security impasse was a search warrant on 3rd December 1996 and notices revoking everything from the 1992 settlement. A thorough investigation turned up no offence whatever by Mr Perkins or by any item seized from the premises.
So without premises and trading documents, Chris went low profile, although his products didn’t. He handed in more than seven tons of MAC 10 parts to the buy in scheme, but Sussex decided they weren’t firearms and gave it all back.
Chris used the stock to make non-firearms, of which there are three types. The 1988 firearms Act created ‘deactivation’ with guidelines as to how to do it. Those guidelines were amended in 1995, so the sought-after de-acs these days are those pre-1995 ones with moving parts, except they can’t be sold without further modification once the Policing and Crime Bill becomes law.
Post-1995 deactivated MAC 10s are welded solid, still worth money and Chris made de-acs. Some policemen can’t work out how a MAC 10 can be ‘deactivated’ without ever being live; they should ask an expert.
Back in 1982, a Firearms Act introduced by police federation representative Sir Eldon Griffiths MP made ‘readily convertible’ replicas subject to the same category as though they were live, with a statutory defence to the effect that not tampering with the product was proof enough that the defendant didn’t know the product was convertible. The actual target of this was the late Major Noel Cory, who imported Spanish flintlocks, correct in every detail except the touchhole was not drilled.
Guidance followed the Act to show how replicas could be made so as to be not readily convertible and thus the trade used those guidelines to deactivate real guns. The Birmingham Proof House certified them as inoperable and could not be fired. Nor were they readily convertible. In 1988, this pattern was adopted for the deactivation clause in the Act that year.
The 1982 guidelines also showed how one should make blank firers and both the 1982 Act and its guidance are still in force. Chris Perkins and many others used that guidance to make dummy firearms with moving parts and blank firers.
The Perkins’ dummies actually started out as display guns; these are quite common in the trade. In Europe dummy guns can pass through international borders without all the import/export paperwork that real ones need. Since display guns don’t need to work, they might as well be dummies.
Chris sold his original dummy set – as displayed at various shows – made more, sold them and made more. After 1995, demand for dummy products was as buoyant as demand for welded solid de-acs. Blank firers were always a limited market, being much more expensive to make and to feed, as well as fussy about the blanks they used.
MAC 10 products thus surfaced in various forms when Perkins had an RFD and later during the inter-regnum when he did not. Then they started turning up at crime scenes. Two men were later convicted of buying bulk MAC 10s and re-using parts from them to make working machine guns. One such was David Mitchell in Sussex; a registered firearms dealer and part time police constable in the county, so far as we know all the stuff he bought and messed with is accounted for and the case features in the official history of MI5.
The other is known as Grant Wilkinson, although that may not be his birth name. He ordered a hundred blank firing MACs from Guy Savage, which he said were for a Bond movie. Guy had experience in film work, so the apparent contract for a Bond job was a surprise and that led him to discussing the transaction with the police. They eventually caught up with Mr Wilkinson and landed him in gaol for remanufacturing the blank firers into live firing products. We do not know if all his products are accounted for, but one was shown to Trevor MacDonald in a TV show. The Met officer claimed that he was working with the Law Commission to prevent that sort of thing happening again.
In 2008/9 Chris and James Edmiston, a former owner of Sterling in Dagenham got together in pursuit of a military rifle export contract. They got the contract, premises and tooling but could not get past the Metropolitan Police opposing their earning a living in London
That business having failed, Chris withdrew to Sussex and applied for a shot gun certificate, which was granted after a six-month investigation. He then obtained premises in an industrial unit and applied for registration as a firearms dealer as director of a new company – Hucklebridge Engineering Ltd. It took Sussex about three months to refuse him and more than eight months for the matter to reach Chichester Crown Court in May 2014.
There were problems with the case from the outset. Sussex made no claim that Perkins – or his new trading company – presented any danger to public safety or the peace, which is the sole ground for refusing registration.
Their summary argument took the view that refusing Chris an RFD was preventative justice, although they didn’t say was what mischief the refusal sought to prevent. Preventative justice is not known to common law and seems to have crept into England from (Roman Law) Scotland. In the case of Luke v Little (1981) a Scottish court upheld the revocation of a certificate on the grounds that the Appellant had so abused motoring law that it was only a matter of time before his alcohol-fuelled attitude problems would lead to his abusing firearms law.
In England, the case of Ackers and Others v Taylor (1974) took the view that relieving them of their certificates prevented them committing the same offence again – which was night poaching with guns held on shot gun certificates. In 1991, the case of Essex Police v Germain followed Luke v Little, taking the view that irresponsible use of a motor vehicle was analogous to irresponsible use of a firearm. Meanwhile, however, Germain had served his driving ban and was back on the road. The chief constable gave him the promise of a new shot gun certificate at the court door of the next appeal.
Thin pickings then for refusing an RFD to a man with no previous convictions, who had never been charged with anything and who had been positively vetted and thoroughly investigated several times with nothing found to be wrong. Still, the case went ahead with evidence from a retired Dyfed Powys officer who had very little to say about Chris Perkins. The best he could do was to confirm that he had found nothing to charge either Chris or his company with after the Assistant Chief Constable had pre-emptively revoked the RFDs at the Welsh premises, so they additionally re-revoked Chris on grounds of not trading: a problem they caused by blocking his section 5.
The Metropolitan police witness had investigated James Edmiston and had a lot to say about him, about police policy, about international policy and much else, but little about Chris Perkins. She’d met him once for four hours to interview and was irritated by the length and precision of his answers and particularly she hated that he knew more than her. Essentially, she’d had a good look at Chris Perkins during her investigation and found nothing improper in his activities that she could charge him with.
She didn’t see it that way, having found a lot of firearms parts in the Edmiston factory, but the CPS took the view that as the material had been returned to the site by the police, charging anyone with it (other than the police officer) would be a non-starter. And if they had, we don’t think there was an offence in there anyway, as Mr Edmiston has an RFD in another county.
That brought the case to Mr Lock giving evidence, he being the decision maker in Sussex. A retired London policeman, his problem was that once he put details of the Perkins/Hucklebridge application on police systems, information surfaced from several other constabularies. He assembled this as a flow chart, showing ‘connections’ between Perkins and his ‘associates’. He found that Perkins had a tie-in to Guy Savage, who had firearms convictions in 1995. Guy actually traded on until the Met shut him down in 2010, but that’s another story.
Through Guy Savage, Mr Lock made a link to Grant Wilkinson, convicted of rebuilding blank firers as live guns. Other people with whom Perkins ‘associated’ were Geoff Allen (Classic Arms editor, gaoled for sexual misconduct in 1999). The Perkins connection to him was that Dyfed Powys police passed firearms belonging to Perkins to Mr Allen in 1998. Father and son Greenwood: Chris Perkins investigated the Greenwoods at the request of Derbyshire. They traded as R.I.F.L.E. in Little Eaton and were subsequently imprisoned for firearms related offences. Then there’s Mike Richardson and Peter Eliot.
The only connection between Mike Richardson, who traded as Dolphin Arms and Perkins was that when Guy Savage was on trial in 1995, Dolphin lent firearms for the defence to exhibit and it was Perkins who collected them from Richardson and returned them. Mr Richardson was convicted of a couple of administrative firearms offences in 1998.
Mr Perkins has never met Peter Eliot, who now manages a range complex in Newfoundland and has not transacted any business with any company Mr Eliot was a director or servant of in the UK. Mr Lock was unable to explain how he made a connection.
The police had asked for three days for their case and Perkins had asked for two days for his: the court only allocated three days altogether, so they can’t add up and the police case used up most of the time. The court adjourned Chris Perkins part heard to the 12th August 2015, on which occasion he attended with his witnesses to find they’d shifted it to 4th October without letting him know. A similar thing happened to Harry Potter when the ministry of magic didn’t want Dumbledore attending a hearing.
On 4th October, the court refused to continue the case and turned it into a costs hearing at which the police were awarded £6,800. There is little point making a costs order against a company which has not been allowed to start trading, but the point was sufficient for the police to seek a winding up of the company for non-payment. A judicial review did not persuade the High Court to intervene. The judge said that the legislation allows the court to make any order it sees fit, which thus does not limit the court to acting lawfully or complying with natural justice.
In some respects it didn’t matter, because Chris Perkins had also applied for an RFD in his other company’s name and that is still pending. He set about persuading Sussex to (a) investigate the malfeasance in public office he’d identified to them in complaints and (b) to limit their liability for restraining his lawful trade since mid 2013 by issuing an RFD.
They thought about it. In fact, the right hand was still thinking about it when the left hand launched search warrant raids against Chris Perkins at (a) his company’s registered office, (b) his proposed place of business, and (c) the flat he shared with his trading premises landlord. They followed all this up with a raid on his girlfriend’s house in Kent a couple of weeks later.
The raids netted them what was left of the seven tons of non-registerable gun parts they’d handed back in 1997, plus several more tons of stuff that the Met had returned to Perkins in London.
It took Sussex more than a year to get a case into Lewes Crown Court and a jury less than two hours to throw it out again. The bottom line is that while investigating Chris Perkins to the enth degree and casting aspersions at everything he did looks good and sounds good to people who think that sabbing lawful interests in hope of making them otherwise is a valid use of police time and public funds, it only does so in the weird parallel universe from which such ideas emanate.
Early in 2017, the lawyer for Sussex indicated that they would not oppose the return of his shot gun certificate, so he asked whether that largesse extended to his RFD as well and we’ll know the answer by the next Journal, or the one after.
AIR WEAPONS IN SCOTLAND
If you live in Scotland and own or possess any air gun with a kinetic energy of 0.73-12 ft lbs you should by now have obtained an air weapon certificate, or applied for one and lodged your air guns with an authorised person pending receipt of the new certificate. You count as an authorised person if you hold a firearm certificate and you add authority for air guns to it for £5 at next renewal.
The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 came into force on 1st July 2016. This is an Act of three parts; part 1 created the requirement for air gun owners to get a certificate, part 2 relates to alcohol licensing and part 3 to civic licensing. That is why it is an air weapons and licensing Act.
In drafting the wording, the Scots reached back past the Firearms Act to the Gun Licensing Act 1870. The Firearms Act requires you, unless exempted, to get a certificate to purchase possess or acquire a firearm. The word the Scots added to this from the 1870 Act is ‘use’.
It appears everywhere that ‘purchase, possess, acquire’ appear as the fourth horseman, which widens the number of people who should have to apply. In the Firearms Act, the word ‘use’ only appears in conjunction with exemptions: without holding a certificate you can use a firearm at a Home Office approved club (Sec 15/1988 Act), a certificate holder’s rifle on private property (Sec 16/1988 Act) and a miniature rifle gallery (Sec 11(4)/1968 Act). You can use a shot gun certificate holder’s shotgun on private property in his presence (Sec 11(5)/1968 Act) and at a place approved for artificial target shooting (Sec 11(6)/1968 Act).
All the other exemptions from the need to hold a firearm certificate refer to possession. Gun bearers, starting gun at a race meeting, cadet corps, dealers and their servants, slaughtermen, warehousemen, actors, ships’ equipment, signalling apparatus, antiques (but watch this space) etc. The difference is that ‘possession’ without a certificate is less supervised than ‘use’.
By adding ‘use’ to the requirement to hold a certificate without purchasing, possessing or acquiring it, casual access to air guns requires a person who has no intention of owning or storing an air gun to nevertheless hold a certificate.
The regulations were published in May 2016. Certificates could be issued from 1st July and owners could not legally keep air guns without that certificate after 31st December. We thought it interesting that, having cribbed the word ‘use’ from a licensing act, the forms on which one applies for a certificate are AWL/1, AWL/2 etc. We figure that the ‘A’ stands for ‘Air’ and the ‘W’ for ‘Weapon’ or ‘Weapons’, but the ‘L’? It’s not short for ‘Certificate’, so we wondered whether they really want this legislation to be a licence, despite having avoided making it so throughout its passage in the Scottish Parliament.
The difference is that an air weapon certificate, like a firearm certificate, is granted if one meets the criteria AND they can’t pony up any reason, real or imagined, to use as grounds for refusing. In the case of a licence, there is no such discretion. For example, when you passed a driving test you received a certificate of competence from the examiner. He’s had the discretion to decide whether your faults are sufficient grounds to pass or fail you and thus whether or not to issue the certificate. Then you sent that certificate along with your provisional licence to the DVLA for a full driving licence to be issued.
The DVLA has no discretion to refuse to issue it. There are medical occasions when it might be suspended, but only a court can revoke it. This is to comply with European law – that’s the Europe the SNP want to remain a part of – as no issuing authority can also be the revoking authority (McGonnell v UK, 2002). The Scottish government seem to have missed that point; odd, given that they are obliged by the Scotland Act (1998) to comply with European law.
The costs are interesting. In UK firearms legislation, the fee is payable on grant, so the fee for any certificate is intended to defray those additional costs that issuing the certificate imposes on the police: the stationery, envelope and stamp. They’ll be a few minutes of secretarial time and every so often the printer will want a new ink cartridge. In cases where the application is refused, the fee is refunded, the money not being required to defray police costs that will not be incurred.
In Scotland, however, the fee for an air weapon certificate is payable on application and the legislation makes no mention of refunding unsuccessful applicants. The legislation also provides a specific power for the police to visit the applicant at home and to inspect the security in which he will keep his air guns. And all that for £72, or less if you’re under 18, a visitor, a firearm certificate holder etc. That makes the regular firearm certificate look way overpriced; on our calculations it shouldn’t be more than £12, but that’s another story.
So how many of Scotland’s estimated 500,000 air weapons are now held on air weapon certificates? The last figures we saw were 2,642 applications had been made by the end of August and just 418 had been issued. By the end of the year, some 7,000 applications had been made and 18,000 air weapons handed in, making a compliance rate of 1.4% or even less if ‘users’ also apply.
That’s low compared to other compliance rate estimates. The air cartridge revolver ban in 2004 attracted a compliance rate of less than 5% by the public. The introduction of shot gun certificates in 1968 generated 600,000 applications, or a heady 25% of owners: much of the ‘increase’ in shot gun certificate numbers 1968-88 is thought to have been late take-up of the requirement as owners found out about it: that was not an option for air cartridge revolver owners as applications had to be made by a cut off date. In Scotland, air gun owners can still apply, but since the end of December 2016 need to deposit the guns with an authorized person first.
Scottish politicians lobbied Westminster for the power to have additional controls over air guns in Scotland and once they had that power they made it abundantly clear that they intended to create criteria for getting the authority to keep air guns at a threshold that most Scottish residents (and many of the air guns) would not be able to meet. That fell away as the legislation took shape, but the public perception remains that they are expected to dispose of air guns rather than apply for a certificate. The break point at which a toy becomes an air weapon is 1 joule of striking energy – about .073ft lb. This is a bit above the striking energy of most airsoft guns, so they remain ‘realistic imitation firearms’: unless it’s modelled on Captain Kirk’s Phaser, in which case is it realistic?
Anyway, our man in Scotland (aka The Usual Suspect) wondered whether one needed the certificate to keep an air gun for defence. This first came up when Scottish ministers were saying that ‘plinking’ would not be a good reason to have an air weapon certificate. Aha, we said; pest control will have to be a good reason and anyone who has a garden, a basement, an attic, outhouse, garage etc. may, at some point have a pest control issue caused by rats, squirrels, etc. Pest control undertaken as a sporting activity falls under firearms certificate controls, but what about defence of life, liberty and property?
This old chestnut works thus; under common law, one has the right to protect oneself and one’s property, with an obligation to turn out as militia, trained and equipped at one’s own expense when summoned by the King or his representative. King James II (on the throne 1685-8/9) was perceived to be restricting those rights to people of the Catholic faith to which he belonged. Britain had, by then, experienced more than a century of religious upheaval. The Pope thought it was up to him who ruled each country in Christian Europe until he received the Declaration of Arbroath from Scotland in 1320. He excommunicated that country. In the 1540s Britain left the Holy Roman Empire Brexit-style when King Henry VIII found it expedient to do so. He needed their money; Anne Boleyn was just the bonus.
Queen Elizabeth I founded the Church of England on the doctrinal wave of Protestantism, leaving Englishmen who favoured Catholicism for faith reasons in a difficult position, because the head of their church was also head of state of a foreign sovereign country. That made it a loyalty issue; or treason to favour another state over the one you live in. Catholics couldn’t hold any office of state due to that conflict of interests. Puritans couldn’t abide the way in which the new Church of England was also the local government, so they went off to America and the Protestant/Catholic debacle ebbed and flowed from one monarch to the next.
James II came to the throne in 1685. The Duke of Monmouth (an illegitimate son of King Charles II) started a rebellion in the West Country, which failed: largely because he could not persuade people to turn out as militia to support him over the King. Those who did lost the Battle of Sedgemoor and then faced Judge Jeffries at the bloody assizes. James II consolidated his position by franchising the powerful offices of state to Catholic families and disarming Protestants.
The Bill of Rights (and the Scottish Claim of Right) were drafted by the plotters who invited William of Orange to invade Britain to restate the common law: they aren’t statutes, but served as guidance to the judiciary as to which of James II’s statutes weren’t worth the parchment they were written on because they tried amending the common law.
Common law can be amended, of course, but the Act making the amendment has to say so on its face, according to Lord Justice Laws in the ‘Metric Martyrs’ case. No such phrase appears in the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act and in any event power to amend the common law wasn’t devolved to the Scottish Parliament. So we asked Professor Adam Tomkins whether an air gun kept for defence requires or is exempted from the need for a certificate.
An MSP since 2016, he is shadow cabinet secretary for communities, social security, the constitution and equalities. His chair is that of the John Miller professor of public law at the University of Glasgow School of Law, so we thought he would know the answer, or at least take an interest in finding out if the Government he opposes has made a mess of things.
Several attempts to draw him out failed to receive a response other than suggestions that legal advice should come from a solicitor: an odd response from a Member of any Parliament, especially one whose brief includes the constitution and who holds a post as a lecturer in constitutional law. Historically and like many academics Prof Tomkins’ seems somewhat left-leaning, as evidenced in his book ‘Our Republican Constitution’, in which he advocated the complete dissolution of the House of Windsor, making unkind remarks about several of its members in the process. By the time he took up his second job as a Conservative MSP, he seemed to have adjusted his attitude enough to take an oath of loyalty to the sovereign.
When we asked the Prof about the progress of the Air Weapon Act we received the following reply:
“Ahead of the new law taking effect, Police Scotland received 6,948 applications for an air weapon certificate by 31 October. Certificates, or refusals, have been issued in all but a limited number of cases, for example where further investigation is required or where payment has not yet been received from the applicant.
A further 5,436 applications were received between 1 November and 31 December 2016. Police Scotland are processing these as quickly as possible, but those who are awaiting a decision must make arrangements to have their air weapons stored in a safe and appropriate place - either with someone who has an air weapon, firearm or shot gun certificate, or a registered firearms dealer - to avoid committing an offence. In addition, by 31 December, 18,935 unwanted air weapons had been surrendered to Police Scotland for secure destruction since the summer.
When you recall that there is an estimated 500,000 air weapons in Scotland, you can see that there must be a large pool of potential criminals awaiting detection. We then asked:
‘British Government and Constitution’, a book you co-authored with Colin Turpin contains an extract from the Bill of Rights including the text: ‘That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.’ Your book then states: ‘The provisions of the Bill of Rights are not inviolate, and some have been altered by subsequent legislation; for example, it hardly needs saying that Protestant subjects no longer enjoy a special privilege in the keeping of arms.’ Here’s the thing; Protestants never had a special privilege in the keeping of arms. At the time the Bill of Rights came into being, only Catholics had the right to possess defensive arms. The mention of allowing Protestants, i.e. anyone not a Catholic, defensive arms simply restored their common law right. That right still exists, bolstered by Article 2 of the ECHR, and I wondered if this might accommodate the unlicenced air weapons in Scotland? Instead of prosecuting people for not possessing a licence, why not default to the Common Law? There is nothing to prevent a person applying for a licence if they wish to use a defensive air weapon for target shooting. If they fail to qualify for a licence the common law would allow them to retain their property. This does not mean someone who commits an offence with an air weapon should not face the consequences of their action. However, unless the police are investigating a reported misuse of an air weapon, why look for trouble?
His reply read:
“You are extremely creative at concocting ingenious legal arguments that would have no chance of success in a court of law!
Top marks for imagination (and thanks for reading my book!) but, in all seriousness, I have made my position perfectly clear.
There is no chance that the courts would rule—or even entertain an argument—that the common law has anything to do with this area of law given the mountain of legislative enactments on gun controls.”
We note that there is no attempt to explain the osmosis from right to privilege. Nobody else has tried to explain it either. Undeterred, the Suspect tried again:
To the best of my knowledge, gun control legislation, however mountainous, applies only to firearms for recreational use.
The Bill and the Claim of Rights Acts confirm the common law authority to possess defensive arms, and they do not suffer implied repeal because they are constitutional.
If there is an act expressly revoking the common law right to defensive arms, care to give me a clue as to its title?
There was no reply so the next attempt:
“The http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ web site’s version of the Claim of Right Act 1689 includes the statement: 'There are currently no known outstanding effects for the Claim of Right Act 1689.' If the Claim of Right is intact, and it states that disarming is contrary to law, then doesn’t my suggestion about allowing owners of air weapons to default to the common law make sense?”
His reply fell short of being an answer:
“We really have exhausted all this. There are no grounds for thinking the common law has any role to play. I'm sorry.”
The story is not over yet however; nothing in this Journal is concluded, so we’ll pick up in the next one to see what’s happening.