Man faces jail after gun found following flat fire

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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A TENANT’S determined efforts to get into his flat after a fire raised suspicions, and police discovered a handgun hidden in a sofa, a court has heard.

Thomas Seath was interrupted by a neighbour as he removed boarding which had been fixed across a door.

A short time later, he was seen carrying a 15ft-long set of ladders and was reported to police as a suspected housebreaker. He claimed he needed to retrieve a benefits book from the upstairs flat, but when officers offered to help, he “panicked.”

A search then revealed the pistol and silencer in a bag within the backing of a sofa.

Seath, 39, of Dalkeith, Midlothian, is facing a minimum five-year jail term after admitting unlawful possession of the prohibited weapon on 26 March last year at Chester Square, Mayfield, Dalkeith. The case was continued for background reports and he was remanded in custody to appear at the High Court in Edinburgh for sentencing in April.

The advocate-depute, Stephen O’Rourke, said Seath had a record of minor convictions, in line with the understanding that “he has significant drug addiction issues.”

He was sole tenant of a top floor, one-bedroom flat in the two-storey block, but had not been living there before a fire in the common stair on 16 March. All residents had to leave and firefighters broke down Seath’s door to confirm no-one was in the flat.

Mr O’Rourke said the front and rear doors to the stair were boarded up to prevent access until a safety inspection had been carried out, and a new door was fitted to Seath’s flat. He contacted the council, but was refused entry to the flat because of health and safety concerns.

On 25 March, a resident heard banging at the stair and looked out to see the boarding had been removed, and Seath with an electric drill. The man told him he should not be there, and Seath left. The man replaced the boarding.

About two hours later, police received a call about someone acting suspiciously, carrying an extendable set of ladders some 15ft long, near Chester Square. There had been a number of housebreakings in the area and officers attended immediately. Seath approached and asked if he could enter the boarded block of flats by an open window. He said he wanted to retrieve his benefits book so he could receive a payment next day.

“He stated he had already tried to gain entry by attempting to remove the boarding but had been chased away by people who thought he was trying to break in. The officers stated they could not help him and that he should approach the council. He picked up the ladders and left. At this time, the officers did not note anything unusual in his demeanour,” said Mr O’Rourke.

Seath was seen a short time later, walking towards the flat with the ladders. Officers spoke to him and he “appeared markedly more nervous.” He claimed to be returning the ladders to their owner, but gave an address which was in the opposite direction to which he was walking.

“The officers offered their help and advised him that they would arrange for council assistance to gain entry to his flat, but would accompany him to make sure all was in order. At this, he became more nervous, appeared to be panicked by this, repeatedly declined their assistance and stated it was no longer important that he retrieve his benefits book,” added Mr O’Rourke.

Search warrants were obtained under the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Firearms Act, and a systematic search of the flat was undertaken. A small black bag was found in the backing of a sofa and it contained a replica blank-firing pistol which had been converted to fire live ammunition. There was also a home-made silencer.