Holidaymakers risking five year prison sentence for stun gun souvenirs

27/01/2015

Holidaymakers returning to the UK are risking a five year prison sentence by bringing ill-advised souvenirs back into the country. Stun guns disguised as torches or mobile phones are being sold as cheap souvenirs in countries such as Thailand. Those that return to the country with these prohibited weapons are committing an offence under the Firearms Act.

Baljit Ubhey, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London, said: "This is an issue that holiday makers must be aware of and they need to make sure they know what they are bringing back in their suitcases.

"Many people will not be aware that that possession of a disguised firearm attracts a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment, unless the judge finds there are exceptional circumstances. This means that it is up to the defendant to persuade the judge that the circumstances in their case are truly exceptional. However, having possession of the illegal item is enough to be found guilty and even those that escape a prison sentence will still have a criminal record.

"What can seem like a silly novelty object can result in a criminal conviction and even imprisonment and I would urge all holiday makers to make sure they know what they are buying when shopping for souvenirs abroad."

Many of these cases are heard at Isleworth Crown Court, which serves Heathrow, and relate to people coming back from holidays to Thailand and bringing with them stun guns disguised as torches or mobile phones.

The issue was raised by His Honour Judge Edmunds QC  at the sentencing hearing of Terry Brannan at Isleworth Crown Court. Brannan was sentenced to five years imprisonment for bringing in a number of stun guns disguised as mobile phones as well as other prohibited items purchased during a holiday in Thailand. Judge Edmunds said at the hearing that the court was "increasingly concerned at the number of people who have been detained bringing home illegal weapons as unwise holiday souvenirs".

Possession of a disguised firearm is a strict liability offence. This means that the prosecution do not have to prove that the suspect knew the object was a disguised weapon to be convicted.

Cases heard in 2014 include a 15-year-old boy with ambitions to become a police officer. The boy pleaded guilty to a number of charges including possession of a disguised stun gun. Although he received a non-custodial sentence his conviction will have implications for his future career prospects. 

Another case saw a man given a 12 month community order including 120 hours unpaid work after being convicted of possessing three disguised stun guns which he bought while volunteering on an aid mission.

Others have been given suspended sentences while one man was imprisoned for nine months after claiming to have bought a disguised stun gun for a friend, not realising it was a firearm. Another man was sentenced to five years imprisonment after he brought disguised stun guns back from Thailand claiming they were presents for friends working in security. Despite knowing they were prohibited he claimed he did not realise how serious the offence was.


Background

Number of charges for possession of a disguised firearm contrary to Section 5 (1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968 in CPS London. This includes disguised stun guns as well as other disguised weapons. We are unable to provide figures solely for disguised stun guns.

 

 Year Number of prosecutions
 2008/9 6
 2009/10 5
 2010/11 7
 2011/12 4
 2012/13 12
 2013/14 20
 
Image: stun gun disguised as an iPhone


Stun gun disguised as iPhone