Sawn-off shotgun and revolver among NHS worker's secret firearms stash found by police after he reported a burglary at his own home

Newcastle Crown Court
Newcastle Crown Court

An NHS worker's secret stash of prohibited firearms was uncovered when he called police to report a burglary at his home.

Officers recovered a sawn-off shotgun and a .38 Enfield revolver when they went to William Connolly's house in Jarrow after a break-in in January.

The 61-year-old, who has never been in trouble before, confessed he had bought the illegal firearms around 15-years before and was a regular attender at military fairs.

Connolly could now face a mandatory five-year minimum jail term after he pleaded guilty to two offences of possession of a prohibited firearm.

Prosecutor Jonathan Devlin told Newcastle Crown Cour that Connolly had acted out of "naivety" and there was no suggestion he had any sinister motive for having the illegal firearms.

But Mr Devlin added: "Both of the weapons were still in working order and the ammunition required for them is in widespread production.

"Clearly, had they fallen into the wrong hands, there would be a realistic threat of danger to the public.

"The weapons were discovered only after, the prosecution accept, the burglary was reported to the police, by the defendant.

"One can only imagine what would have happened had the sawn-off shotgun been found by the burglars and disappeared into the criminal community."

Mr Devlin said the prosecution accept there was "no risk" of Connolly using the weapons, which have not been linked to any crimes or criminals, or even taking them out of the house.

He added: "He knew they were active, they had not been deactivated.

"He was able to describe the process of deactivation. He said the weapons had never left his home, he never spoke to anyone about them and he had never used them.

"He said in both cases, the ammunition had come with them."

Gavin Doig, defending, said Connolly is a "law-abiding citizen" who has been employed for a number of years by the NHS.

Mr Doig said: "This is an unusual case. Possession of these weapons is a serious offence.

"Any home, I accept, is vulnerable to burglary. It is impossible to say the risk of these weapons falling into the wrong hands was zero. Any home could be burgled, as the defendant's was.

"The chance of the weapons falling into the wrong hands was small."

Connolly, of Hadrian Road, Jarrow, will be sentenced on Friday and has been allowed bail in the meantime.

Judge Tim Gittins told him: "Ordinarily, even on a guilty plea, these offences may attract a mandatory minimum sentence."

Judge Gittins said the sentence was adjourned to he could "look carefully again" at the sentencing authorities, alongside defence team written arguments that the case may be "exceptional" and that the five-year term could be avoided.

The judge warned Connolly: "By granting you bail I am not giving you any indication of what the ultimate sentence will be.

"All options will be open to the court."