AN ILLEGAL firearm was not handed in to police when it was found by the man who had unwittingly inherited it years earlier.
And because of the unusual circumstances, Mark Smith escaped the immediate prison sentence which would normally result from possessing a prohibited firearm.
Smith, 43, of Marston Doles near Southam, had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to possessing the firearm and also admitted possessing silencers and cartridges.
He was sentenced to 15 months in prison suspended for 18 months, and was also given an 18-month conditional discharge and fined £500 by the judge, Recorder Adrian Redgrave QC.
The court had heard that the illegal weapon, together with the cartridges and five silencers, had been found by the police at Smith’s home in November last year.
Smith had entered his guilty pleas at a hearing last month on the basis that they had come to him as part of the belongings of his late great-aunt who had died in 1984.
She had been a farmer, and her belongings had been packed in one-tonne potato boxes and loaded onto trailers to be delivered to the family’s home at the time at a farm near Southam.
The property consisted largely of agricultural equipment and tools, many of which were wrapped in hessian sacking, and it remained undisturbed until it was moved to Radbourne Manor Farm near Marston Doles in 1989/90.
There they were stored unopened in a tool shed for a further 15 years until Smith needed some space and decided to sort through them and throw out any scrap contents.
It was then that he discovered the gun wrapped in some hessian sacking together with some shearing machine heads.
Smith, who believed it was an old one of a type he had seen being used for the humane dispatch of animals, never used it because he thought that because of its age it would be too dangerous to fire.
Not realising it was a prohibited weapon, he failed to hand it in or make arrangements for its destruction, and instead simply put it in the metal cupboard where it was subsequently found by the police.