2 Jan 2016 – Controversial farmer Tony Martin was arrested on New Year’s Eve because he didn’t show enough respect to local police, a local man has claimed.
Martin, 71, was arrested by police on 31 December after boasting to a reporter that he had an unlicensed firearm. Norfolk Police eventually admitted they had found an air rifle and said they also took his car, which the millionaire landowner sleeps in.
Martin was released from custody on the same day, though no charges appear to have been laid yet. He is due to answer police bail in February.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, businessman Malcolm Starr, who led the public campaign to have Martin freed from jail after he fatally shot teenage traveller burglar Fred Barras in 1999, said: “Unlike those from 15 years ago, who knew Tony well and knew what he was like, this new generation of officers see him as a bit of a nuisance.”
“They think he has shown them disrespect, so it seems now they have got it in for him and they’ve said to themselves, we had better be showing the public that we take this matter seriously.”
The police operation against Martin is said to have been pre-planned. Norfolk Constabulary refused to deny Starr’s allegations that local constables wanted to teach the old man a lesson.
Martin had been commenting to a local newspaper about a fatal shooting at an Essex care home on 29th December. A resident in her 80s was shot dead, reportedly by a man of about the same age armed with a revolver.
It is thought the farmer said words to the effect of “Do I still have a gun? You’ll have to find out, won’t you.”
Martin has been arrested, meaning legal protections kick in that prevent speculation about his guilt or innocence. The law, however, can be discussed with care.
For anyone sentenced to more than 3 years in prison there is an automatic lifetime ban on possessing firearms, per section 21(1) of the Firearms Act 1968. Airguns count as firearms for the purposes of the law.
The sentence for breaking section 21 is up to six months in prison if convicted by magistrates or five years if taken to Crown court.
Given that Martin was previously sentenced to five years in jail for the manslaughter of Barras (substituted from his original murder conviction and “life” sentence), it seems that if prosecutors can prove that he possessed the airgun, in the legal sense, he could face another stretch at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
Interestingly, from the legal point of view, the section 21 prohibition is of possession of firearms and ammunition and not ownership per se. Martin could still have title to goods over the airgun but if he did not have access to it, a court may conclude he is not guilty of breaching section 21.
Ownership of a thing is a legal concept, whereas possession is a practical matter of having access to an item – a situation the licensed firearms community will be very familiar with when it comes to cabinet keys and constructive possession.
A brief legal overview of the differences between possession and title to goods is available here. A much longer article about the differences, including some history of English property law, can be read on Coventry University’s website (PDF).