A man has been spared a five-year jail term for unlawfully possessing a gun which he used as a toy in his youth to play cowboys and Indians.
Richard Sandison was a schoolboy when he inherited the 125-year-old revolver from his grandfather who had been decorated during service in the First World War, a court heard.
He kept it as a momento in adult life, until the weapon was seized by police and identified as a prohibited firearm. Possession of it carried a minimum prison sentence of five years, but a judge ruled that there were exceptional circumstances to allow Sandison, 51, to avoid custody.
“The minimum sentence (of five years) would be arbitrary and disproportionate to his conduct,” said Lady Scott at the High Court in Edinburgh.
She deferred sentence until later in the month for a background report on alternatives to custody.
Sandison, of Uphall Station, West Lothian, admitted having the 1888 Belgian-manufactured Bulldog pistol without proper authority at his former home in Bathgate, West Lothian, in June 2011.
He told the court that he had been a teenager when he was given his late grandfather’s revolver and a sword bayonet, and three medals he had received for bravery in the First World War.
“My uncle said the pistol had been deactivated and knew that someone my age would probably enjoy something like that. I played with it, as any boy would I suppose...cowboys and Indians with my friends,” said Sandison.
In later years, the revolver, the bayonet and a Second World War air raid patrol helmet were kept on open display on top of a chest of drawers in the study of his home, he added.
Sandison, an unemployed mechanic who once had his own garage business, said he acquired some knowledge of guns as the owner of a shotgun, for which he had a licence. He used it for clay pigeon shooting and for killing vermin on a friend’s farm.
“I understood a working handgun, capable of firing, was illegal. But as far as I was concerned, there was no way that pistol could be fired. I had absolutely no concept that it was a prohibited weapon. I was utterly convinced it was an antique, and unworkable,” Sandison stated.
Police had attended his home on an unrelated matter and had removed the pistol.
Sandison was “stunned” on being told that a firearms expert had established that the weapon, while in poor condition and not in normal working order, could be discharged by striking the rear of the uncocked hammer with a hammer. Children visiting his home had been allowed to play with it, and his only fear had been they might drop it on their toes.
“I did not think it was capable of firing. I honestly did not think it was capable of doing anything. I now feel absolutely foolish, a total ignoramus. I had no concept I was committing a criminal offence until it was all explained to me. I am so sorry I didn’t realise,” he added.
The defence solicitor-advocate, Ramond McMenamin, said the case had many parallels with that of Gail Cochrane, a grandmother from Dundee, who kept a pistol, her late father’s “trophy of war”, for almost 30 years. She had been jailed for five years, but the term was quashed on appeal.
He said Sandison’s only previous brush with the law had been a speeding fine, and if “exceptional circumstances” were established for Cochrane, the same must apply to Sandison.
The advocate-depute, Gillian Wade, argued that the difference in the Cochrane case was that the Crown had accepted she had not known she was committing an offence. That did not apply to Sandison.
“He was knowledgeable about guns...he should have been alerted to at least the possibility this gun should have been checked. It was not good enough to guess whether it was a prohibited weapon,” submitted Ms Wade.
However, Lady Scott said she considered that Sandison’s belief that the gun had not required to undergo licensing procedures was genuine and reasonable in all the circumstances.