HMA v RICHARD WATT

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, 5 September 2014, Lord Burns sentenced Richard Watt to a community payback order of 140 hours of unpaid work after he pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of two shotguns.

On sentencing, Lord Burns made the following statement in court: 

“Richard Watt, you pled guilty on 8 August 2014 at a Preliminary Hearing to very serious charges under the Firearms Act in relation to the illegal possession of two shotguns one of which was a prohibited weapon due to the shortened barrel. Both were in pieces, old and in poor condition but capable of discharging cartridges.  

Parliament has specifically provided that unless, exceptional circumstances exist, I should impose a minimum custodial sentence of five years on charge 3. That is because it was thought necessary to send out a deterrent message in all such cases. As is obvious, the mere possession of such a weapon can create real risk to the public if such a weapon were to be stolen. Substantial periods are available for the other charges. The question for me is whether in the whole circumstances of your case, as presented to me in the agreed narrative, the Social Work Report, the letter from your wife, that from her Rehabilitation Centre and the plea advanced on your behalf by Mr Crowe, that minimum sentence should be imposed or whether it would constitute an arbitrary and disproportionate one.  

The relevant circumstances seem to me to be these:  

1.  That you were given the guns 20 years ago. You did not deliberately acquire them. They were given to you. There is no evidence that they have recently been fired by you or anyone else. You kept them for that period in secure conditions and as such there was a relatively low risk that they would be found and thus fall into criminal hands.  

2.  There is no suggestion that you were involved in any criminality in respect of firearms beyond the possession of these guns. You had a history of compliance with the Firearms Act requirements in respect of firearms that you did use.   

3.  You have no previous convictions and had a good work record until your retirement. 

4.  You co-operated with the authorities.  

5.  You accepted your guilt at an early stage and offered to plead by s76 letter. 

6.  You have been assessed at low risk of re-offending. 

7.  You are 76 years of age and you are your wife’s main carer. She is significantly disabled and requires a great deal of care through-out the day and at night. I accept that she would have considerable difficulty in living alone at home and would require a care package to be provided to ensure her wellbeing.  

8.  You were fully aware that possession of these weapons was illegal.  Despite that you hid them away. This is of course an aggravating feature of your case.  

Balancing these considerations, I have reached the view that to impose a sentence of at least five years would be both arbitrary and disproportionate. Further, because of the history of the matter and your age, lack of record and the fact that your wife is so dependent upon you, I have concluded that the public interest does not require me to impose a custodial sentence in your case. I therefore propose to make a Community Payback Order, as recommended in the Social Work Report.   

That has two elements: an order to carry out unpaid work of 140 hours. I have reduced that from 200 hours because of the plea you tendered. That work must be carried out within one year. In addition I will impose a supervision order for that period of one year.”