Imprisonment - Length of sentence - Possession of firearm with intent to cause fear of violence

R v Weaver: CA (Crim Div) (Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Hickinbottom (judgment delivered extempore): 5 August 2011

The defendant was a dairy farmer and owned a shotgun, which he had a licence for and used legitimately around the farm. The defendant and his wife (the complainant) attended a Christmas party.

The defendant drank a considerable amount of alcohol. When the defendant and the complainant returned home, the defendant began to be aggressive.

He took his gun, loaded it, took the safety catch off, pointed it towards the complainant’s face and said: ‘I am going to blow your fucking head off’. The complainant believed that it was his intention to kill her. That incident lasted a few minutes. The defendant then went outside into the garden and discharged the gun.

The complainant managed to run away and telephoned the police. The defendant was charged with and pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence contrary to section 16A of the Firearms Act 1968. There had been no history of domestic violence. The defendant and the complainant had an eight-year-old son, who had not been in the house at the time of the offence.

There was a psychiatrist’s report which said that the defendant did not suffer from a psychiatric condition, but had just had an outburst of emotion. The event had occurred because of the specific circumstances of that evening and he did not think that the defendant posed a future risk to the complainant. A pre-sentence report assessed him as having a medium risk to a woman who he might enter into a relationship with.

The defendant and the complainant separated after the offence and the complainant said she was still fearful and had recurring nightmares. The sentencing judge took a starting point of seven-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and deducted one-third for the guilty plea. The defendant was accordingly ­sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. He appealed against his ­sentence.

The defendant submitted that the judge’s starting point of seven-and-a-half years had been too high. The defendant submitted evidence from a police officer who reported that he was a model prisoner and had taken an active part in instructing prisoners in farming. The appeal would be allowed.

In the instant case, the defendant had to have appreciated the dangerousness of the weapon. He had intended to cause fear of violence and the offence was aggravated by the fact that it had occurred in a domestic context where wives and partners have a proper expectation that they will not be in fear of violence.

The mitigating features of the case were that the defendant had been in lawful possession of the gun, the holding of the gun towards the complainant had only lasted a few minutes, the defendant had been in a highly emotional state at the time and his behaviour had been out of character. The defendant had no previous convictions and had an industrious life in farming.

Reports from prison officers also showed that he was a model prisoner. In the circumstances, the judge had a difficult task in balancing the serious aspects of the offence against the positive character of the defendant and the risk of future offending being low.

In the circumstances, the sentence was manifestly excessive as it did not fully reflect the particularities of the offence and the exceptional ­mitigation. Accordingly, the defendant’s sentence would be quashed and substituted with a sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Richard Milne (assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the defendant.