A SCARBOROUGH gun owner has spoken for the first time of more than two years of hell facing a possible five-year prison sentence for firearms charges – despite being fully licensed and keeping the authorities informed about weapons in his possession.
Chris Whitehead, a 61-year-old from St Nicholas Street, was a licensed gunsmith and had been working on modifications to a .177 air pistol when he was asked by North Yorkshire Police to take the weapon to a proof house so that it could be tested back in January 2009.
He said there was a misunderstanding and the weapon was wrongly labelled as prohibited. He was later interviewed under police caution and the case eventually ended up in York Crown Court in August last year.
“It was mind numbing and soul destroying really,” he said. “It was a very deeply upsetting time for me, my wife and my family.”
The weapon in question was a new copy of a 1911 Norinco Colt handgun which had been professionally factory converted to use a self-contained air cartridge and after four days of legal arguments the judge hearing the case decided that Mr Whitehead was free to go.
He said there was a great sense of relief when he heard the judge say “you can go home Mr Whitehead”. He added: “I’d never believed I was guilty but it was a tremendous relief not to get put behind bars. You have got to believe in yourself.
“The police have been very supportive. I am not having a go at the police because they’ve got a job to do to investigate these things”
It is understood that the court fees for his case were well in excess of £100,000 and Mr Whithead said it would have ruined him.
Mr Whithead said he had been around firearms for most of his life and was given his first shotgun at the age of nine.
He has previously been an aircraft engineer and had worked with the armed forces as a support engineer – including two years with the US military helping to service vehicles from the first Gulf War.
And he said that guns often suffered a bad press and fatalities in this country were very rare compared with the number of people killed on our roads.
He added: “Cars are far more dangerous than guns have ever been but they don’t take cars off the streets because there are accidents.”