A farmer who kept an illegal sawn-off shotgun under his bed and another gun in an airing cupboard was rumbled after a raid by police and RSPCA officers.
Stewart Whitworth received a visit at his Ramsclough Farm home on Haslingden Old Road, Oswaldtwistle after a warrant was executed under the Animal Welfare Act.
Burnley Crown Court heard how the officers were investigating an unrelated matter.
However, during the search they found a sawn-off ‘bolt action’ shotgun under his bed and another single-barrelled gun in a cupboard.
Whitworth, 57, pleaded guilty to possessing a prohibited firearm and a firearm without a certificate.
Judge Jonathan Gibson said possessing the illegal shotgun carried a ‘statutory minimum’ prison sentence of five years, however agreed to waive it due to ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Stephen Parker, prosecuting, told the court how police and RSPCA officers visited Whitworth’s farm at around 8.30am on May 21 last year and found the two guns which were not licensed by a shotgun certificate.
The court heard how the illegal shotgun had been ‘modified’ with the ‘barrel cut down’ and a pistol grip added. When interviewed by police, Whitworth said the guns has been given to him around five years ago by a friend who later passed away.
He said the friend kept the guns at an allotment, however following a burglary handed them to Whitworth for ‘safe keeping’. Mr Parker said the guns were kept in his attic until a water leak when he moved them to the bedroom.
The court heard how there was no ammunition in the weapons and they had never been used, but were in ‘fully working’ order.
Robert Elias, defending, said Whitworth was an ‘unworldly and naïve’ man who is ‘wedded to the land’.
He told the court how his wife thinks he’s an ‘idiot’ and a ‘foolish man’ but would ‘never hurt a fly’.
He said: “He doesn’t leave his farm from one year’s end to the next. He is out every day feeding the animals, including Christmas Day and birthdays, and has never been on a holiday.
“He is an amiable and pleasant man who made a terrible mistake. He does not shirk or talk down what he did. To do something like this is madness.
“He did a favour for a friend, not realising in the first instance the enormity of what he was taking under his custody.”
Mr Elias said the shotgun under the bed was ‘forgotten about and covered in dust’ and posed ‘no danger to anybody’.
Judge Gibson handed Whitworth a two year jail sentence, suspended for two years and ordered him to pay £350 costs.
Sentencing, he said told Whitworth immediate custody would have a ‘catastrophic effect’ on his farm and family.
He said: “I have decided exceptional circumstances do apply.
“The sentence of at least five years would be arbitrary and disproportionate.” No action was taken as a result of the initial investigation.