Man who left firearm outside of gun cabinet fails in appeal against conviction but has fine reduced

Sheriff Appeal Court
Sheriff Appeal Court

A man who was convicted of a statutory offence under Section 1(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 for leaving his gun in an unlocked room while he was on holiday has had his appeal against conviction refused.

Robert Riggs also appealed against his sentence, which was a fine of £3,000. He argued that the sheriff had not taken into account mitigating factors and erroneously focused exclusively on one aspect of the circumstances in which the gun was found.

The appeal was heard in the Sheriff Appeal Court by Sheriff Principal Anwar.

Reasonably practicable

The appellant had been the holder of a firearms certificate for a Tikka bolt action rifle since January 2014. One of the conditions of the licence, condition 4(a), was that the firearm and any ammunition for it must “at all times be stored securely so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, access to the firearms or ammunition by an unauthorised person”. The rifle was usually stored in a lockable metal gun cabinet in the appellant’s home.

On 5 July 2018, the appellant returned home from shooting vermin and removed the bolt from the rifle to clean it. It was left to dry against a wall next to the gun cabinet with the bolt still removed. The following day the appellant and his wife left for a pre-planned holiday. The gun was not put back in the cabinet prior to their departure.

In their absence, a fire broke out and extensively damaged their home. A firefighter discovered the rifle in the unlocked room where the appellant had left it, leading to a prosecution. Evidence was led of the security measures at the house including reinforced doors, CCTV cameras and of the fact that there had been no break-ins or incidences of vandalism at the house in the last 15 years. Nonetheless, the sheriff found that the appellant was in breach of the conditions of his licence.

On appeal, counsel for the appellant submitted that the sheriff had failed to consider all of the facts and circumstances when considering what was “reasonably practicable”, and should have taken into account the security measures at the locus alongside the failure to store the gun in the cabinet. Attention was also drawn to the fact that the appellant had removed the working part of the rifle and the fact that there was no explicit condition requiring the gun to be stored in a gun cabinet.

The advocate depute contended that the conditions of the appellant’s licence required the rifle to be stored securely, and the circumstances meant that the rifle had been accessible to unauthorised persons, including the appellant’s wife.

Anyone would have had access

In her opinion, Sheriff Principal Anwar began by considering the findings in fact, saying: “It is correct to note that the findings in fact are brief and focus on the failure to use the gun cabinet. It is of course not a condition of the appellant’s licence that the firearm be stored in a locked gun cabinet. The appellant’s failure to store the firearm in a locked gun cabinet was a significant adminicle of evidence, however, it is not determinative of the issue.”

On whether the sheriff had focused exclusively on the fact that the rifle was not in the cabinet, she said: “Finding in fact 5 refers to the gun cabinet providing ‘added security’, thereby indicating that the sheriff had in fact paid due regard to the other security measures identified by counsel for the appellant and which had been narrated by the sheriff in his note.”

She continued: “The sheriff has carefully noted the uncontroversial evidence of the appellant and of his wife each of whom spoke to the factors now relied upon on behalf of the appellant. The sheriff concluded that those factors did not assist the appellant.”

Addressing the conditions of the firearms licence, she said: “The particular mischief that condition 4(a) is designed to address is the possibility that the firearm may end up ‘in the wrong hands’ – those ‘wrong hands’ may belong to a child or a visitor to the property or to those who are uninvited, such an intruders. The facts and circumstances upon which the appellant relies and which relate to the security measures at the locus, relate to the latter category of ‘unauthorised persons’.”

She added: “The facts and circumstances upon which the appellant relies are the measures designed to make the firearm safe (such as the removal of the bolt), not measures to securely store the firearm. Self-evidently, it was reasonably practicable for the appellant to store the rifle, as he had intended to, in the gun cabinet before he left the property. Notwithstanding the other factors referred to, anyone entering the unlocked room in which the firearm was found by the firefighters, would have had immediate access to it.”

For these reasons, the appeal against conviction was refused.

Oversight rather than deliberate

Turning to the sentence imposed, Sheriff Principal Anwar said: “The appellant is a 59-year-old individual with no previous history of offending. It was clear from the evidence before the sheriff that the failure to securely store the firearm within the gun cabinet on the day in question had been an oversight rather than a deliberate contravention of the appellant’s firearms certificate.”

She concluded: “The sheriff notes that the removal of the bolt from the rifle was ‘significantly mitigatory’. In the circumstances, we consider a fine of £3,000 to be excessive.”

For these reasons, the sentence imposed by the sheriff was quashed and substituted by a fine of £1,000.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021

Other judgments by Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar