A man, aged 64, appeared at court and faced a mandatory five year prison sentence for possessing a gun - despite it being a 140-year-old antique pistol.
Leonard Corker, who is in ill health and had to be helped into court by his daughter, was charged under the Firearms Act after he voluntarily offered to hand over the gun to police officers.
The weapon, worth between £150 and £200, was deemed to be a prohibited firearm and Mr Corker was charged
If Mr Corker had been convicted by a jury after trial, a mandatory minimum jail term of five years could only have been reduced in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
But a judge at Sheffield Crown Court questioned the likelihood of the prosecution succeeding and Mr Corker walked free from court.
Mr Corker, of Higham, near Barnsley, had pleaded not guilty to possessing a prohibited firearm.
The court heard the weapon had been handed down to him by his father and he volunteered it to police who called at his home on January 18.
Craig Lowe, prosecuting, described it as a ‘prohibited weapon’.
No ammunition was found at Mr Corker’s house and Mr Lowe conceded that ‘on the face of it’ the weapon was an antique but he said it was an issue which a jury would have to decide.
But Rebecca Stevens, defending, said Mr Corker kept the gun as a curiosity and he did not believe it was capable of being fired.
Judge Recorder Tahir Khan said the prosecution would have had to prove the gun was not an antique for them to succeed.
He said from what he had read of the defence case, the Crown would find it hard to contradict the evidence.
The prosecution then decided to drop the case and Mr Corker was found not guilty.
The judge said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not criticise the Crown for bringing the matter to court to the stage we have got to.
“It is clear that this gun falls within the definition of a prohibited weapon. The decision for Mr Corker to be charged was clearly the proper one.”
He said without seeking to usurp the jury’s function on the known facts he would have concluded there was no case to answer at the end of the Crown’s case.
Judge Khan added: “The Crown are to be applauded for taking what may well have been an easy or difficult decision. It is clearly the right thing they are doing.”
Mr Corker was then asked to allow the police to keep the gun and destroy it.
The judge said: “It could be a firearm and therefore in the wrong hands it could be a lethal weapon.
“In those circumstances it seems to me that in order to safeguard Mr Corker from further legal difficulties the sensible thing to do is to disclaim it.”