Thursday, 17 June 2010

Do You Feel Protected By This?

During my jolly jaunt on Tuesday, I met up with a couple of very likeable people who work for blog mascot, Philip Davies (see sidebar to the right). They seem keen to understand objectors to his speech last week on the surveillance state.

Phil (I think we're familiar now), being Phil, is apparently well aware that safeguards are needed in that regard before people can truly trust the state to use such tools responsibly.

As this particular libertarian has mentioned previously, the only real issue with such technology is the human propensity to abuse it. Listen, I'm no luddite, nor do I believe is Alex Deane who excoriated Philikins (too familiar?) at the IEA, or the No2ID contingent who were equally surprised at his unexpected stance on the night. I'm sure they accept that, for example, CCTV has a valid place in modern society - in fact, I know the latter do as I asked them - but that the accompanying control just isn't currently satisfactory.

As I sipped my tax-funded tea (as promised, I didn't have a choccie biccie mostly because it wasn't offered ... cuts, eh?) I hope I made clear - unaccustomed to sober debate as I am - that the biggest fear is mission creep.

You know, that horrible feeling that we've been duped into a quite revolting restriction of liberty on a false premise.

Like this, for example.

A grandmother has been jailed for five years for possessing a "family heirloom" World War II pistol.

Gail Cochrane, 53, had kept the gun for 29 years following the death of her father, who had been in the Royal Navy.

Police found the weapon, a Browning self-loading pistol, during a search of her home in Dundee while looking for her son.

She admitted illegal possession of the firearm, an offence with a minimum five-year jail term under Scots law.

Cochrane told the High Court in Edinburgh that she had never contemplated she might be committing a crime by keeping the gun or that she might need to get a licence for the weapon.

She said: "I thought it was just a war trophy."
Just to clear something up for the cynical. The reason that Cochrane would have pleaded guilty is that there is, officially, no defence as the law currently stands. Possession is possession and that's that.

Now, we have seen this before with a guy called Paul Clarke. However, the differences in Clarke's case are twofold. Firstly, he managed to escape the mandatory 5 year prison sentence, and secondly, he was only arrested In the first place because he attempted to hand the weapon in.

Yet Gail Cochrane is now behind bars for not only not knowing that she had committed an offence, but also for not trotting down the police station with her family keepsake, which could have resulted in the same zero-tolerance 'possession' charge anyway if Clarke's experience is to be taken as a guide. What's more, her ignorance of the need to declare her serviceman father's weapon was used against her.

Judge Lady Smith said: "I am not satisfied that a reasonable explanation has been put forward for not handing this gun into the authorities throughout the 29-year period she says she has had it in her possession."
Now, Jack of Kent was calmness personified during the Paul Clarke affair and offered many sceptical insights into how such a prosecution could be justified, so hopefully he will lend his expertise to this case too.

Especially since there is no suggestion that the weapon was ever going to be used.

She said she believed it was a real gun, but had no ammunition for it.

The weapon was sent for examination by firearms experts who concluded that it was a Czech-made pistol dating back to about 1927.
You see, this is the problem. A law brought in to punish dangerous gangsters and criminals has been applied, apparently without common sense, to jail a grandmother for 5 years.

I'm sure if JoK casts his legal eye over the case he will pull out something which isn't evident from the bald reportage from the BBC, but this woman is clearly no Griselda Blanco, so one must presently conclude that mission creep has again come into play, and that a law intended for the dangerous and inexcusable has been turned on an unfortunate, and seemingly innocent, member of the public.

There are many sides to the crime and punishment coin. This case, yet again, proves that before any measures are proposed, promoted, or wildly encouraged, let alone implemented, all unintended consequences should be fully explored to avoid the public feeling that they have lost their own liberties as a result.

See, Phil?



JuliaM said...

I dumnno. I've gor problems with this one (though 5 years? That's a bit off).

It's the 'keeping it under the mattress' bit that doesn't gel with her 'Och, it was just a wee souvenir' excuse.

I have lots of souvenirs. Some are on display, some are tucked away in boxes in the loft or the garage.

None, I repreat, none are concealed under my mattress!

JuliaM said...

Oh, fumblefingers! Apologies for the erratic spelling...

Captain Ranty said...

This doesn't even come close to a crime.

For a crime to have been committed there needs to have been a victim: someone who has suffered loss, been harmed or injured, or someone who has been defrauded.

No victim here. No-one harmed or killed.

Who cares if she had an 83 year old weapon?

Only nanny.

This "crime" didn't even warrant an hour on the naughty step.

All it does is prove that our judiciary are all fuckwits that shouldn't be allowed within a mile of a courtroom.



Bucko said...

Disgraceful that this woman should even have come to the attention of the courts. The handgun ban was bad enough, even just for its original intentions, but to jail someone for owning an ex WWII heirloom is unforgiveable. How many weapons made it back to the USA in the hands of the servicemen who had collected them?

We have only recently had the discussion about Ken Clarke wanting to cut sentances and reduce the prison population. Well here is the first candidate for release.

As the Captain says, no victim, no crime.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Julia: I can see where you are coming from, but seeing as it wasn't loaded, she didn't have any ammunition, and one presumes that finding some which fits an 83 year old Czech weapon would be tricky, does it really matter where she keeps it?

CR: "No victim here."

Yup. And arguably not even the potential for one.

JuliaM said...

"...does it really matter where she keeps it?"

If her argument was 'I didn't think it was against the law and I didn't want to use it, honest', then why keep it hidden?

OK, we all know why. She (I suspect) kept it there to frighten off any burglar should she ever encounter one.

But then, if we relaxed the gun laws, she wouldn't NEED a 83 year old anytique for that, would she?

Chuckles said...

Captain R,

I agree with the spirit of your argument, but I think that to play the 'victim' card is incorrect. Reference to, or the presence of a 'victim' is irrelevant. The knuckle-draggers in NL created so many classes and categories of spurious victim that she would definitely be guilty of something. e.g. If her neighbours had known she possessed the souvenir, they would have been outraged. Bang to rights immediately.
I think 'mens rea' is what you intend?
That, and of course the poisonous filth that is a 'strict liability' offence.

Smoking Hot said...

JuliaM ... maybe you could ask the police? They were searching for her son and obviously thought he was hiding under his mum's mattress. :)

subrosa said...

Dick, I read somewhere (don't ask me the URL) that the gun was found under the woman's mattress when the police were searching the house looking for something which would help them find her son. He hadn't turned up for a court appearance.

Why would anyone have a gun under a mattress? Surely if it was so old it'd be in a dirty old carrier bag in the loft.

Oops I've just noticed Julia says the same. :)

Bucko said...

""A firearms expert described it as "a trophy of war". It was found to be in poor external condition and had a faulty safety catch and trigger mechanism, but was in working order and could fire bullets.""

Is the real question about weather the gun was under the matress or in a bag in the attic, or do we question the wisdom of jailing someone for 5 years because they own a 1922 antique pistol with no ammunition?

The only justification for taking away a persons freedom is that they are a danger to others.

I see no danger here and no justification

Captain Ranty said...


I hear you.

I should have stipulated that I was using common law to define a) a crime and b) a victim.

The "law" used to put granny away was a statute.

There is a world of difference and I should have explained myself better.

But yes, mens rea will suffice.


JuliaM said...

"They were searching for her son and obviously thought he was hiding under his mum's mattress."

That's criminals for you - they do strange things when pursued... :0

Ian R Thorpe said...

A sad contrast with the USA where the state of Montana has considered secedeing from the union if Obama tries to carry out his threat and make them give up their assault rifles, heavy calibre machines guns and anti tank weapons.

Well there are a lot of wolves and bears in the mountains.

The Great Simpleton said...

The problem here is minimum sentencing. This ties the hands of the judiciary who cannot apply "common sense".

Minimum sentencing is one of Labour's most pernicious legacies.

Junican said...

Does anyone here think like me that, in the circumstances of statute law, strict liability and minimum sentences, the word 'possession' needs to be clearly defined? As someone said elsewhere, if the court clerk held the gun, was he guilty of 'possession'? Was the policeman who took 'possession' of the gun when it was found, guilty of an offence? If an object such as this old gun were found in my garage, would I be guilty of 'possession' even if I knew nothing about it? If this person had simply thrown the thing over someone else's garden wall, would the owner of the property be 'in possession'?

For years and years I had a dagger in my house which I bought when I was about 17 years old. I used to wear it on my belt when I was youth hosteling in the 1950s. I was very loath to get rid of it because it evoked lots of happy memories. In the end, I took it to a police station and handed it in. I didn't want to just chuck it in the bin because who knows where it may have ended up?). The reason for getting rid of it was that I had by them acquired grandchildren, and I thought that it would be better if it ceased to be in my house.

Supposing that the same 'strict liability' law had applied to daggers? It was definitely in my possession and it was also hidden, but only in the top box of my wardrobe under some clothes (to keep it away from children). Which brings me to my next point - if a person really wanted to hid A GUN, would that person just slip it under a mattress?

It seems to me to be the case that this lady kept the gun merely because it was there - just like my dagger. Since it was so old and there was no ammunition, it was, for all intents and purposes, just a piece of metal.

However, there are always circumstances that we are not aware of. Who know what the police were aware of about this family? It might well be the case that this gun has been used (without any certain evidence) to frighten shopkeepers, for example, into handing over their takings. These are the things that we know nothing about, and that the police cannot tell us.

However, these possibilities do not detract from the argument that 'possession' needs to be properly defined.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

To answer the question:

Nope, not at all.

No more than I feel protected by the failure of the legal system to convict a single British policeman for deliberately shooting dead or seriously wounding an innocent member of the public.

I guess, if we live long enough, we might see Saville II - "Stockwell" - I bet the legal eagles (vultures?) are wondering how they can swing it..

Newspaper Blogger Paul Taylor

Of the £195m cost of the Saville Report, £100m went in legal fees. In the 12-year course of the inquiry, no less than 14 lawyers have raked in fees of more than £1m, with two legal eagles trousering more than £4m each

As is often said - it's not justice it's "The Legal System" and plainly something is broken big style. TB and NL caved in to their demands at every turn... and one needs to look no further than Mrs B to see that they have more than their share of venal bullies in their ranks who will do almost anything for money.

Muzzling public discussion of their carry ons is right up there - superinjunctions and all - I mean... how many "superinjunctions" don't we know about?

rmg said...

Why ere the Police looking for the son under the mattress?