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HMA v George Watt


Mar 7, 2024

At a preliminary hearing on 8 February 2024 George Watt pled guilty to possession of a prohibited firearm contrary to section 5(1)(aba) of the Firearms Act 1968. On 7 March 2024 at the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh Lord Doherty sentenced him to 5 years’ imprisonment.

His Lordship made the following sentencing statement:

“George Watt you have been convicted of possession of a prohibited firearm contrary to section 5(1)(aba) of the Firearms Act 1968. The firearm was a 5-shot converted blank firing revolver. It was capable of firing modified blank .380 cartridges with a 6 mm steel ball bearing attached which if fired at a person could have been lethal. You possessed it for more than 10 months. You kept it in your home during that time.

This is an offence to which section 51A of the Firearms Act 1968 applies. The court requires to impose a minimum custodial term of 5 years’ imprisonment unless it is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or the offender which justifies not doing so. Counsel urged on your behalf that there were exceptional circumstances. She prayed in aid your age (65) and health; the fact that your only previous conviction had been in 1982 for a non-analogous offence; that you had found the firearm rather than acquired it; that you had not converted it; that you had not used it or shown it to others; that it was not found with ammunition; and that you say you were unaware whether or not it was a prohibited weapon – you had just thought it to be ‘a daft old thing’.

I am not satisfied that this is one of the rare cases where it may be said that there are exceptional circumstances within the meaning of section 51A. None of the factors relied upon, individually or collectively, describe an exceptional situation which would justify departing from Parliament’s intention that the minimum term be imposed for this offence. Nothing said about your age or health indicates that you could not serve a 5 year sentence or would have unusual or unacceptable difficulty in doing so. The mere possession of a firearm may present dangers to the public, because it may fall into the wrong hands. You did not put it beyond your own use or anyone else’s use by surrendering it to the police when you found it. There is force in the observation in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report that you knew that this was a firearm which you ought to have alerted the police to when you found it. The mitigatory factors in this case do not outweigh the need to send out Parliament’s deterrent message.

I’m my view the appropriate headline sentence for this offence is 5 years’ imprisonment. Section 51A precludes me from discounting that headline sentence to reflect the utility of your plea of guilty. However, I will note in my report to the Parole Board that but for section 51A I would have discounted the sentence to 3 years 9 months’ imprisonment. It will then be for the Board to decide what, if any, weight to give to that.

The sentence I impose is 5 years’ imprisonment. That sentence will run from 8 February 2024, the date you were remanded in custody.”

7 March 2024