Gun find soldier walks free from court
A former soldier who faced five years in jail after finding a shotgun and handing it in to police will be spending Christmas at home.
Paul Clarke, 27, was given a 12-month suspended sentence for possession of a firearm at Reading Crown Court today.
No jail: Paul Clarke walked free from court
Clarke took the stand and sensationally claimed he had been having a sexual relationship with a female Surrey Police detective – and another police officer had grown jealous.
The 27-year-old was given the chance to give evidence in open court before his sentencing.
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He said: "I didn't call the police [to tell them I had found the gun] because I was sleeping with the detective.
"Another officer has got a bit jealous and I have had a lot of harassment from the police since then.
"I also didn't want to call 999, I didn't want trigger happy police on my doorstep so I tried to call superintendent Harper instead."
Clarke told the stand he repeatedly called superintendent Andrian Harper to make an appointment with him to hand over the weapon – found at the bottom of his back garden.
Clarke told the court Mr Harper was not available for four days after he had found it.
Clarke said: "I just said I had something to give him, I didn't want to say I'd found a gun because then he would have sent lots of police around.
"It could have been a duplicate or an antique and to be honest I was more concerned I would be done for wasting police time, it never even crossed my mind I would be arrested."
Clarke said it only occurred to him he would be in danger of arrest once he handed the gun in at Reigate police station.
Clarke said: "Adrian said I might have to caution you, he said I'd put him in an awkward position because he might have to arrest me.
"And I said to him 'what do you mean, I'm handing it in?'. He said 'it's illegal even to possess it' and I can't said 'can't it be an amnesty, surely I can't be arrested for handing it in?', he then had an officer come in, arrest me, and take me down to the cells'."
Clarke told the court, whilst he was in police custody, three officers made him sign a statement which stated the discussion he had had with Adrian Harper prior to handing in the gun lasted 20 minutes.
Clarke admitted the statement he signed did not address the fact he had found the gun in his garden. But signed it because he felt he was not in any serious trouble.
Clarke said: "At the time I didn't know anything about these strict liability laws, I didn't realise I was committing any crime."
During cross-examination, prosecutor Mr Stalk queried whether Clarke had truly revealed he had found the gun during the meeting with Mr Harper.
Clarke replied: "I can't remember my exact words but I did tell him, and the police officers all asked me to sign that piece of paper and I thought it would be easier to cooperate.
He added: "At the time they I didn't think they were going to stitch me up."
Summing up, Judge Christopher Critchlow said: "It was a highly unusual case and one in which there are exceptional circumstances that means it would be unjust to impose the minimum sentence.
"It is an exceptional case because you took this weapon to the police station to hand it in."
He said the fact Clarke had kept the gun for four days was "odd behaviour" and it was a "very serious matter" that he did not hand it in immediately.
Judge Critchlow continued: "I therefore consider a term of imprisonment must be imposed to mark the gravity of keeping such a weapon and not immediately surrendering it to the police.
"I understand you were once a soldier and you in particular ought to have appreciated the danger posed by such a weapon.
"You should have asked the police to come and collect it right away.
"I find this was a strange matter, it may have been something to do with your previous involvement with the police, but that does not justify not giving immediate notice that you had such a weapon, and wanted them to have it."
Clarke was sentenced to a 12-month prison term, suspended for one year. He is also under curfew for one night from 8pm until 7am tomorrow morning (Saturday).
- Surrey Police responded to the sentencing at 4pm today (Friday), standing by their decision to pursue the case to court.
A Surrey Police spokesman said: "Clarke was given the opportunity to explain the full circumstances of how this lethal and prohibited weapon came to be in his possession.
"This explanation lacked credibility and a report was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
"Surrey Police stands by its decision to investigate and make its case to the CPS which decided that it was in the public interest to prosecute the case in court, and Paul Clarke was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon.
"This case clearly illustrates the serious view which is taken of the possession of any prohibited weapon such as a sawn-off shotgun or shortened shotgun.
"Such weapons are frequently prepared specifically to be used in the commission of serious violent crime."
In the statement released to the media, the spokesman wrote: "Surrey Police is pleased that, having heard all of the evidence today, Clarke has been sentenced appropriately."
For legal reasons comments have been turned off for this story until Monday.