A JUDGE took pity on a South Yorkshire community hero who fired two blasts from his shotgun to scare off teenage vandals in a village park.
Volunteer park-keeper and cafe owner Francis McDonald, aged 42, was facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail after he admitted possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence at Sheffield Crown Court.
The father-of-five discharged his legally-held double-barrel gun into the air near the teenagers but was thrown into police cells for 48 hours after parents of one of the youngsters complained.
The Recorder of Sheffield Judge Alan Goldsack said anyone who discharges a gun in the public arena could normally expect custody.
But he told Mr McDonald: “Because of your character, the circumstances of your offence and the community view it will not be applied in this case.”
He added: “It is quite clear from the letters I have received about you from many people in that area that you have transformed that place into somewhere where the public can enjoy going and they are very grateful to you for doing that.”
McDonald was given an eight-month prison term suspended for a year and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid community work.
Afterwards the single dad said: “I regret what I did but those kids were never in any danger. I wouldn’t hurt a fly. It was just a mad moment of frustration.
“Most of the local residents are saying I did right and are fully supporting me. I didn’t but that is their opinion.”
He said over the last two years Elsecar Park in the village of Elsecar, near Barnsley, had been plagued by teenage anti-social behaviour in the evenings.
The single dad lives in a cottage next to the park cafe which he has turned round and his voluntary park-keeping duties helped Elsecar win a Green Flag Award for being one of the country’s best parks.
Prosecutor Nicola Quinney said teenage yobs had been drinking, damaging plants, throwing cans around and hurling verbal abuse.
On the evening of May 13 this year when McDonald padlocked the gates and about 15 youngsters, both male and female, began damaging plants by the park bandstand.
McDonald saw what was happening from his home, grabbed his shotgun, walked to the bandstand and asked the youths to leave.
When they refused he fired off two shots in the air from about seven feet away.
“He wanted to scare them and frighten them off,” said Ms Quinney.
One girl was frightened he might shoot her and had suffered a panic attack. Another youth had suffered sleepless nights.