A BARRACKS guard with a ‘schoolboy interest’ in memorabilia stole an AK47 rifle from his base’s museum, a court heard.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard Ministry of Defence guard serviceman Philip Bower stored the rifle wrapped in cellophane in his wardrobe at home in Chidham Close, Havant, before it was found 11 years later.
One-time Army serviceman Bowler, 53, took the rifle from the Royal Military Police museum at Chichester Barracks when it closed down in 2005.
He is still employed as an MoD guard, now at Portsmouth Naval Base, and faces a disciplinary investigation.
Damian Hayes, mitigating, said: ‘When the barracks closed in 2005 he found the rifle and other weapons insecure in the barracks museum which itself had been left insecure after hours.
‘He decided to take the gun as a souvenir.
‘He assumed that the gun had been deactivated but when he got it home he found that was not the case.
‘He removed the firing mechanism and stored both items separately.’
Bowler, a keen airsoft player, had taken a plastic training round and a single revolver cartridge from the Army previously, Mr Hayes said.
He added Bowler served in the Army for a few months at the age of 18 but was a ‘frustrated soldier’ and regretted not re-joining.
Judge Roger Hetherington, who criticised the Crown Prosecution Service over the case, spared Bowler a mandatory minimum five-year term for having the AK47.
Finding exceptional circumstances in the case and in Bowler’s life, the judge imposed a 16-month jail term suspended for two years with 100 hours’ community service and 20 rehabilitation days.
Judge Hetherington said: ‘Mr Hayes rightly submits that at no point during the defendant’s possession of the items was there a risk to the public.’
Prosecutors had been asked to respond to the defendant’s claim of exceptional circumstances but failed to respond in time, the judge said.
The judge said Bowler had not tried to sell the weapon, reassemble it, and had deactivated it.
He added jailing Bowler would be a ‘crushing blow’ to his elderly parents he cared for. Bowler admitted possessing a prohibited firearm and a charge of having ammunition without a certificate. It was found on November 21, 2016.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: ‘We are aware of the sentencing of an MoD Guard Service employee. The individual will now face an internal disciplinary investigation.’