Alex Massie

Another Disgraceful Prosecution

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Like the Devil's Kitchen, I'm late getting to this


travesty. The most enraging aspect of it is, of course, that one can no longer be surprised by this kind of behaviour. Yet again the police and the criminal justice system prove themselves out of touch with common sense or decency.

A grandmother has been jailed for five years for possessing a "family heirloom" World War II pistol. Gail Cochrane, 53, had kept the gun for 29 years following the death of her father, who had been in the Royal Navy.

Police found the weapon, a Browning self-loading pistol, during a search of her home in Dundee while looking for her son. She admitted illegal possession of the firearm, an offence with a minimum five-year jail term under Scots law.

Cochrane told the High Court in Edinburgh that she had never contemplated she might be committing a crime by keeping the gun or that she might need to get a licence for the weapon. She said: "I thought it was just a war trophy."

Defence solicitor advocate Jack Brown argued that the circumstances surrounding the case were exceptional and that it would be "draconian, unjust and disproportionate" to jail the grandmother-of-six.

However, Judge Lady Smith said: "I am not satisfied that a reasonable explanation has been put forward for not handing this gun into the authorities throughout the 29-year period she says she has had it in her possession."

The judge said she was unable to find herself satisfied that this was one of the rare cases in which exceptional circumstances existed.

She said: "The result is I have no alternative but to sentence Mrs Cochrane to a period of five years."

I dare say that a pedantic, literal interpretation of the gun laws shows that Mrs Cochrane is indeed guilty - but she's not nearly as guilty as those responsible for the injustice of mandatory prison sentences or the creation of crimes for which there's no defence possible - but you would have thought that at some point someone would have paused to wonder if this prosecution is actually in the public interest. Apparently not.

And so a 53-year old woman faces five years in chokey. And for what? For failing to give her father's service revolver to the police. Then again, if she had taken the Browning to the polis then who knows, she might have been charged with possession of a firearm anyway.

Maybe there's more to this case than meets the eye (and that possibility must be admitted) but, on the face of it at least, this seems to be an unusually monstrous perversion of justice - even by the lofty standards set by the narrow-minded goons who litter the criminal justice system. Then again too, our gun laws are a shambles and a nonsense so none of this should come as any surprise.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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