Right decision not to jail Royal Marine over AK47

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Royal Marine Richard Bowen should count his lucky stars he did not wake up in a prison cell today.

Had it not been for his exemplary service record, he could well have been starting at least a five-year stretch.

That is the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearm unless there are exceptional extenuating circumstances.

Corporal Bowen, 45, from Southsea, had those in spades – an unblemished military record which has seen him serve his country in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is an expert in his field and highly respected by all who have served with him.

But in his loft he had the stripped down parts of an AK47 assault rifle – minus the bolt and any ammunition.

However, Portsmouth Crown Court was told that had those two things been present, the gun was perfectly viable.

All this happened when he was 22.

Yes, we all stash stuff in our attics and forget about it until we stumble across it years later.

But few of us have potentially lethal weapons lurking in the loft; weapons which could still be used if they fell into the hands of, say, a burglar.

And Bowen still failed to hand it in during two national firearms amnesties, one in 1996, another in 2003. He was lucky to escape with a suspended jail sentence having admitted possessing a prohibited weapon.

But we cannot help but wonder what would have happened had the defendant in yesterday’s case been a civilian. We suspect the book would have been thrown at him.

This case bears some similarities to that of former SAS sniper Danny Nightingale who earlier this year also received a suspended prison sentence for illegally possessing a pistol and 338 rounds of ammunition.

The judiciary seems to have taken a lenient view in both cases and in that of Bowen, we believe Judge Sarah Munro QC got it right.

What point would an immediate prison sentence have served, apart from depriving the Royal Marines of a top-class man?