The Liberal Democrats have often (wrongly) been accused of being soft on crime, but here is a story you won’t find in any mainstream press – so I have to thank David Mitchell (yes, that one!) for pointing this one out to me. I firmly believe that gun and knife crimes are one of the biggest problems we face in Britain today, but I do think that the story of Paul Clarke illustrates that Labour have gone too far by turning our country into a nanny state. Think what the outcome of this story would have been if it had happened 15 years ago, 25 years ago, 35 years ago? The case would not have made it to the courts. The law needs to be tough, but in my opinion we also have a duty to make it sensible.
Guildford, Surrey, November 2009
A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for “doing his duty”.
Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.
The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five years imprisonment for handing in the weapon.
In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: “I didn’t think for one moment I would be arrested. I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets.”
You can read more about this case here.
In British Law, possessing an unlicensed firearm is one of those “absolute offences” (a bit like speeding), there is no defence – you are either guilty or innocent. There is no excuse. Further, the punishment for possessing an unlicensed firearm leaves no room for doubt nor manoeuvre, the sentence is a minimum of five years imprisonment.
We have created a legal system that is akin to a speeding freight train with no brakes. The Judge directed the Jury to find Paul Clarke guilty (because it’s an absolute offence), so the Jury have no choice. Guilty. So, will the judge now unravel this mess, and sentence Mr Clarke to something proportionate and tolerable: “you will be taken from this place and given tea & biscuits and a lift home” ? He can’t, even if he wants to. British Law dictates that the minimum sentence for this “crime” is five years imprisonment, so the Judge will have no choice on December 11th when Mr Clarke is due to be sentenced.
I often heard the phrase “The Law is an ass” while growing up, without truly understanding it until I was much older. If ever there was a case that defined that phrase, this is it. Yes, Paul Clarke did a stupid thing – carrying a gun through town is not the brightest thing to do. But, when did stupidity become a criminal offence? Since when did being “a bit silly” attract a prison sentence of five years?
Something has gone wrong. Badly wrong. Whether it went wrong at the police station, with the CPS, with the judge, with the jury, with our legal system or somewhere else, it went wrong.
This is not right.