Elderly Traveller Caught with a Gun at Heathrow Airport Freed on Appeal


It is hardly surprising that anyone caught in possession of a firearm at a UK airport is almost bound to receive a stiff prison sentence. However, as the case of an elderly traveller who had a pistol and ammunition in his luggage as he passed through Heathrow showed, judicial minds are always open to an exceptional case.

The Mexican national, in his 70s, pleaded guilty to two possession offences under the Firearms Act 1968 after an airport scanner detected the gun and bullets in his hand luggage as he prepared to board a commercial flight. His crimes would normally have demanded a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

In imposing a 26-month term, however, the sentencing judge acknowledged that the case was exceptional. He accepted that the man, a hugely experienced traveller who was permitted to keep a gun in his homeland, was unaware that the offending items were in his luggage. He had recklessly left them in a bag that he used for international travel some two or three weeks later.

He also had considerable mitigation: he suffered from a range of medical conditions, including dementia, and there was evidence that his memory was poor. He was of exemplary character and had received glowing references from, amongst others, a Nobel peace laureate, a former ambassador and the President of the Mexico City Supreme Court. The judge nevertheless found that his offences were so grave that an immediate custodial term was required.

However, in subsequently upholding his challenge to his sentence and directing his immediate release, the Court of Appeal ruled that, in the very unusual circumstances of the case, appropriate punishment could and should be achieved by the imposition of a two-year suspended sentence.

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