Norfolk farmer's son jailed for gun import

The son of a leading Norfolk farmer and veteran TV broadcaster has been jailed for three years today for mistakenly importing an illegal gun from America when he returned to live in the county 12 years ago.

A prominent Norfolk farmer and broadcaster tonight spoke of his fear that a jail term would 'destroy' his son after seeing him jailed for the second time for mistakenly importing a lethal revolver.

Andrew Richardson, 49, had originally been sentenced to five years after admitting possessing the firearm and ammunition at Norwich Crown Court. He had stored the gun since moving back to Britain from America in 1997.

That sentence was later overturned due to a legal technicality but today he was ordered to return to prison for three years. The judge ruled that, although a five-year term would be 'wholly disproportionate', the offence was so serious that immediate custody was the only option.

Outside court his father David Richardson said the family would now consider appealing the sentence. He added that the rigid nature of gun laws seemed draconian.

'We were devastated by the original five year sentence and we are almost as devastated by three years - it still seems out of proportion to what he did,' Mr Richardson said.

'Andrew has an impeccable character and a sentence like this could destroy a man of his age. He may never find work again.

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'The ten days he spent in prison before nearly destroyed him so I dread to think what three years will do.

'He has been stupid and foolish and all of those things. But it seems a pity that the law cannot discriminate between somebody with real criminal intent and somebody who makes a silly mistake.'

Prosecutor Malcolm Robins described how Richardson, of Damgate Street, Wymondham, had originally been given the weapon to 'shoot rattlesnakes' while working in Texas. He had been bitten by a snake and did not want it to happen again.

Giving evidence under oath, Richardson said he had suddenly decided to move back to Britain in 1997 to take advantage of a business opportunity.

He had packed up the home he shared with his wife and daughter in Carolina. Half of the packages were to be shipped to Norfolk and half to his in-laws' home in North Dakota. A mix up with the shipping firm meant some of the items, including the gun, were accidentally transported to Britain.

Richardson said: 'When I discovered the gun there was an expletive involved, I was certainly shocked. I didn't know what the heck to do with it.'

He admitted that he knew it was illegal to own the gun in this country but was scared of what would happen if he contacted the police. 'I didn't want to throw it away because I did not think it would be safe,' he added.

Laws were toughened in 2004 to crackdown on gun crime. Richardson admitted he had been aware of gun amnesties but ultimately failed to take advantage of them.

The gun was eventually discovered when he failed to pay a storage bill at the Big Yellow storage warehouse in Norwich. The firm sent the items to an auctioneer who found it among other clothes and personal belongings then contacted the police.

Jailing him, Judge Peter Jacobs said the legislation dictated a minimum sentence of five years unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Even in such cases it would be extremely unusual not to jail a defendant. The average sentence for similar offences had been four and a half years and there are no previous cases in which an immediate prison sentence was not imposed.

He added that he did find exceptional circumstances - including Richardson's impeccable character, the fact the weapon had not been imported deliberately and had been kept 'reasonably securely' - but this was not enough to allow him to walk free.

'I have made this finding with a lot of hesitation because the defendant kept this weapon illegally for a decade, knew that he had it and concealed it in various places with ammunition. That arguably more than cancels out the inadvertent shipping.

'Having made the finding I must however not lose sight of the seriousness of the defendant's position. This was a lethal weapon and the defendant knew he had it for over a decade.'