Ex-police armourer gets suspended term

A FORMER Suffolk firearms dealer has walked free from court after being handed a suspended sentence for illegal possession of rocket launchers, riot weapons and an anti-tank gun.

A FORMER Suffolk firearms dealer has walked free from court after being handed a suspended sentence for illegal possession of rocket launchers, riot weapons and an anti-tank gun.

Appearing at Bury St Edmunds Crown Court yesterday, Richard Ashley, 58, was handed a nine month suspended sentence for three offences following a lengthy trial held earlier this year.

The action came after a raid at the former Suffolk police armourer's home in Fen Road, Pakenham, near Bury, on February 14, 2001, where a large quantity of weapons were discovered.

During the investigation and subsequent court case, a minimum of £81,766 of taxpayer's money was spent pursuing Ashley - a decision yesterday defended by officers.

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Speaking after the case, Det Insp David Rutterford, of Suffolk police, said: “This case was thoroughly investigated, a file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration, who determined the matter should proceed to the courts for their judgement.

“We take any report that individuals may be in possession of firearms illegally extremely seriously and have a duty to the public to investigate such reports fully.”

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During the nine-week trial in Ipswich, Ashley was found guilty of keeping ten weapons illegally, but cleared on two counts relating to a large quantity of handguns and machine guns.

But during yesterday's sentencing, Martyn Levett, mitigating for Ashley, told the court his client had already been punished, having suffered ill health since his arrest and effectively losing a successful business.

He also said his wife had recently spent two weeks in intensive care following a brain haemorrhage, and could end up in a wheelchair if any further medical problems emerged.

“My client provided a superb service to the county for a period of 15 years, and is generally a faultless person who has had a highly commendable reputation,” said Mr Levett.

“He did not pose any risk to the police or to the public, and there is no suggestion that any one of these weapons were kept for any criminal intent.

“He has been married for 35 years, and his wife Denise is his closest and best friend, who has supported him through thick and thin.”

He told the court that Ashley, who suffers from asthma, had visited his doctor around 50 times since proceedings began due to his own ill health

Sentencing Ashley, His Honour Judge David Goodin said: “These are not trivial offences, neither are they minor infringements. There is nothing trivial about a rocket launcher, mortars, riot guns and anti-tank guns.

“You were a respected firearms dealer in this county, working for the police force. You have held the authority of the Home Office to possess some prohibited weapons, while your military bearing, punctilious courtesy and undoubted skill as a gunsmith gave you deserved respect.

“It became apparent during your long trial that you had created a world of fantasy about yourself and your military service - a world in which you preferred to live.

“That would be unremarkable in a small boy, and even in an adult living in his own world of make-believe it would not be a cause for concern, but not when that adult is a registered firearms dealer, authority holder, and holder of firearms and shotgun certificates.

“I have no doubt at all that you regard yourself as a thoroughly law-abiding citizen, and I have no doubt in every respect but one you are exactly that.”

Judge Goodin went on to accuse Ashley of “deliberately flouting” the law, but said the former dealer was still held in high regard due to his years of dedicated service.

He made no order as to costs, and ruled the weapons confiscated would remain with the police - but said ones properly regarded as antiques may be returned to Ashley.

Following the hearing, Ashley's solicitor said his client intended to appeal against one of the convictions.

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