'Law-abiding' NHS worker kept secret stash of illegal firearms at home

William Connolly kept an illegal stash of weapons at his South Tyneside home.
William Connolly kept an illegal stash of weapons at his South Tyneside home.

An NHS worker has been put behind bars after his secret haul 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 after they went to William Connolly's house in Jarrow, after a break-in in January.

Newcastle Crown Court heard 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 as a collector.

Connolly could have faced a total of ten years behind bars after he pleaded guilty to two charges of possession of a prohibited firearm, offences which

both carry a mandatory minimum of five years in jail.

Judge Tim Gittins said there was "exceptional" circumstances in Connolly's case which meant the "draconian" prison terms could be avoided.

But the judge said the keen collector must still go to jail for possessing the items, which had been bought "under the counter" at military fares.

Judge Gittins sentenced Connolly to 18 months behind bars and told him: "The gravity here is not just one but of two prohibited weapons, with ammunition, that could have, as the burglary at your home address aptly demonstrated, fallen into the hands of criminals, despite your best endeavours."

The judge said it was accepted Connolly was a genuine collector of military

memorabilia who had no intention to use the firearms for any sinister purpose and had been a hard-working, law abiding member of society.

But Judge Gittins told him: "The mere possession , even in these exceptional circumstances, of prohibited weapons, in knowledge of the concentration of the legislation by retaining them, significantly crosses the custodial threshold.

"You, and others who seek to possess such fearsome, lethal weapons, especially with ammunition with them, must expect any sentence to be immediate, to reflect public concern, public protection and the need for deterrence."

Prosecutor Jonathan Devlin told the court Connolly had acted out of "naivety" and there was no suggestion he had any sinister motive for keeping 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 burglaries 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, of Hadrian Road, 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."