AN ‘exemplary’ Royal Marine who admitted possessing an AK47 rifle from the first Gulf War has been spared jail.
The weapon was discovered in the loft at father-of-two Richard Bowen’s Eastney home by Ministry of Defence police during a search on an unrelated matter.
Officers found the AK47 Chinese manufactured type 56 assault rifle in parts in plastic bags, in a military container with Bowen’s details on it.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard the weapon did not have a bolt and no ammunition was found with it.
However, examinations revealed that had a bolt been added and ammunition placed into the magazine, it was in ‘good working order,’ according to prosecutor Richard Barton.
Junior non-commissioned officer Bowen, 45, who has the rank of corporal and is a veteran of Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, admitted possessing a prohibited weapon.
Section 51a of the Firearms Act 1968 states crown courts shall impose a mandatory minimum five-year jail sentence for possession of a firearm if the offender is aged over 18 when the crime is committed.
However, courts have discretion not to impose the minimum term in ‘exceptional circumstances.’
Sentencing Bowen, of Gibraltar Road, Eastney, to 12 months in jail suspended for a year, Judge Sarah Munro QC said: ‘This is the most exceptional case.’
Bowen, who has served in the Royal Marines for 28 years, was aged 22 when he was deployed to northern Iraq and served in Operation Safe Haven.
The court heard he did not put any weapons in his kit before returning to the UK and had no intention of using it or passing it on to anyone else. He discovered the AK47 shortly before he was due to embark on another exercise.
Sam Brown, defending, said: ‘For a while it’s true to say that the defendant, still very young, contemplated displaying it as a trophy. The defendant’s wife sensibly said “no”.’
The court heard from prosecutor Mr Barton that Bowen also considered throwing the weapon into the harbour, but was concerned about being caught on CCTV.
There were two national firearms amnesties, one in 1996 and 2003, however Bowen did not hand the weapon in.
But the court heard Bowen has an unblemished military record and is an expert in his field who is highly respected in his professional and personal life.
Judge Munro, sentencing, said: ‘The man standing before me is an exemplary soldier, a devoted husband of 25 years and a father of two children aged 21 and 19. All who speak in your favour speak highly of you. They speak of your professionalism, compassion, sensitivity and proficiency.’
She added: ‘You have an exemplary service record. You are admired and respected by all in your profession.’
JUDGE COULD NOT OVERLOOK SENTENCE OF FORMER SAS SNIPER DANNY NIGHTINGALE
THE suspended sentence given by a military court to a former SAS sniper convicted of illegally possessing a pistol and ammunition could not be ignored in Richard Bowen’s case, said Judge Sarah Munro QC.
Danny Nightingale was sentenced to two years detention suspended for 12 months following a court martial held in Wiltshire in July.
The married father-of-two had originally been sentenced to 18 months detention for being in possession of a prohibited Glock 9mm pistol and 338 rounds of ammunition at his accommodation near the SAS’s Hereford headquarters. However the decision was overturned on appeal.
Civilian police found the pistol in Nightingale’s wardrobe and ammunition under his bed in a plastic box in 2011.
Nightingale, from Crewe in Cheshire, said he had no knowledge of the weapon or ammunition being in his bedroom and said someone else had put them there.
He was sentenced to two years for possessing a prohibited firearm and nine months for possessing the ammunition after being found guilty of the two charges following the retrial.
Both sentences were suspended and were to run concurrently.
During the sentencing, it emerged that members of Nightingale’s family had spent about £120,000 on legal bills in their battle to clear his name.