Country hotel manager fired a stun gun in his office to 'show off'

Paul O'Hanlon pictured in 2011. He lost his job at the Black Swan when the offences came to light.
Paul O'Hanlon pictured in 2011. He lost his job at the Black Swan when the offences came to light.

The former general manager of a country hotel has been spared prison after keeping illegal weapons on-site and even firing off a stun gun inside his office to show off to colleagues.

Paul O’Hanlon, 50, was running The Black Swan in Helmsley when the authorities caught up with him for storing illicit firearms inside a gun room there.

York Crown Court heard that a female staff member at the hotel heard a “crack” when O’Hanlon fired the electroshock stun gun.

The weapon, which is similar to Tasers used by police, is unlawful in the UK, said prosecutor Richard Walters.

O’Hanlon, who has since lost his job at the hotel, also kept an illegal handgun inside the hotel’s locked gun cabinet.

Mr Walters said O’Hanlon had owned a firearms certificate for a semi-automatic shotgun and an air rifle when he lived in Northern Ireland. The licence was also valid in England, but it expired in February 2015.

In the meantime, O’Hanlon had moved to North Yorkshire and began working as general manager at The Black Swan in 2011.

“The gun cabinet was used by guests and staff and he was allowed to store his gun in this cabinet,” said Mr Walters.

“In 2015, his gun licence expired. He did not extend it and did not surrender his weapons (which) remained in the gun cabinet. Before 2017, he had come into (possession of) an electric stun gun and two employees of the hotel remember him showing it off to them and firing it in his office.”

Matters came to a head in March 2017, when a staff member told police that O’Hanlon kept weapons in the gun room, including a deactivated replica handgun which fired a gas-type canister or “noxious substance”.

Officers carried out checks and found that O’Hanlon had no firearms certificate. When he was confronted by the hotel’s resources manager, he told her that he did have a firearms licence, but when she asked to see it, he said it was in Ireland.

He later confessed to her that his firearms licence had expired and told her he would “sort it out”.

She informed the hotel’s directors who called for an investigation, whereupon O’Hanlon asked a registered firearms dealer to look after his weapons and sign an application for renewal of his certificate.

O’Hanlon’s office was searched and a stun gun was found, but about a week later he took it home and destroyed it.

He was arrested on April 9 last year after officers found the gun parts and the air pistol in a bin at his home.

O’Hanlon said he had kept the stun gun in a locked drawer inside his office. He claimed he didn’t realise it was illegal and that he had “simply forgotten” to renew his licence for the blank-firing pistol.

“There is no evidence of (the weapons) being used in any malicious context (and) the witnesses said they did not feel threatened,” said Mr Walters.

He added that O’Hanlon had used the air weapon for “sporting hobbies” but “could not offer any good reason why he kept (the stun gun)”.

Since his arrest, O’Hanlon’s fiancée had left him, and he had moved to Scotland where he had found new work at a hotel in the Highlands.

O’Hanlon, now of Seabank Road, Nairn, Highland, appeared for sentence on Friday after being convicted of possessing a prohibited weapon and a firearm without a certificate.

Defence barrister Peter Minnikin said his client, who had led a previously blame-free life, had hitherto been a firearms licence-holder for over 20 years “without problems”.

Judge Andrew Stubbs QC told thedefendant he should have been aware of “the great dangers of firearms falling into the wrong hands”.

However, the judge said he could suspend the inevitable jail term because of O’Hanlon’s hitherto “impeccable” record, his reputation as a hard-working man and the steps he had taken to store his weapons with a registered gun dealer and subsequently destroy them.

The 12-month prison sentence was suspended for a year. O’Hanlon, who sat with his head bowed throughout the hearing, was also ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.