Is This the Most Enraging Story of the Year? Perhaps!

14 November 2009

8:15 PM

14 November 2009

8:15 PM

You might think that this story can’t be true or that’s been made-up to provoke everyone’s inner Littlejohn. But no, not so. It is true and, alas, an enraging, dispiriting business.

A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty".

Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.

The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five year’s imprisonment for handing in the weapon.

In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: "I didn’t think for one moment I would be arrested.

"I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets."

The court heard how Mr Clarke was on the balcony of his home in Nailsworth Crescent, Merstham, when he spotted a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden.

In his statement, he said: "I took it indoors and inside found a shorn-off shotgun and two cartridges.

"I didn’t know what to do, so the next morning I rang the Chief Superintendent, Adrian Harper, and asked if I could pop in and see him.

"At the police station, I took the gun out of the bag and placed it on the table so it was pointing towards the wall."

Mr Clarke was then arrested immediately for possession of a firearm at Reigate police station, and taken to the cells.

Now I happen to think that our gun laws are often pretty absurd anyway. But, assuming that these are all the relevant facts, this is worse than absurd: it is monstrous. Next time you hear a copper complaining that people don’t respect the police think on this and remember that if the police are mistrusted it is, at least in large part, because they have often forfeited the right to be trusted. This story, extreme as it may be, reaffirms that.


The law is clearly at fault here, but that doesn’t excuse the wilful, even vindictive abandonment of common sense in this instance. This isn’t a miscarriage of justice, it’s a betrayal of justice and with the exception of Mr Clarke all concerned, including the jury, should be ashamed of themselves.

Hat-tip: Charlotte Gore. Pickled Politics and, especially, the Devil’s Kitchen have more too.


Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Gareth

    Well this article adds to the rage Alex, its all hearsay.
    If he said he found it at the bottom of the garden then who put it there? Why was he not believed? Has he been found guilty without having been PROVED to have owned the gun and just made up the story of having found it. Is it part of Common Law to be found guilty without being given a trial? Was there a trial? What was the full story………..please tell us Alex.

  • Harry

    Historically speaking the English justice system has always been operated by a bunch of shmucks . Harry from New York

  • Alfred T Mahan

    I think you’ll find that Paul Clarke had previous. Last year he had a run-in with a council official but was acquitted:

    So the decision to prosecute was probably based on history rather than just the facts of the case. Doesn’t necessarily mean it was right, though.

  • MadSkier

    I agree with Hysteria above . . . . there MUST be more to this story that the bare facts reported by the correspondent. For a start, I wouldn’t go into the police station with a shotgun and put it down on the desk of the chief constable without any prior warning!! Come to think of it – I don’t think I’d get as far as the chief constable with a shotgun in my possession, sawn-off or otherwise. It would have been detected long before I got to the end of the corridor.

  • Constantly Furious

    Oi! The ‘Constantly Furious’ blog was one of the early breakers of this woefully undercovered story, and caused the #PaulClarke Twitter storm that pushed it to prominence. Have a look at

    Surely your ‘Most Enraging’ headline indicates you knew that?

  • Waffle

    There are legal issues here, but they relate entirely to strict liability and the power/responsibility of the jury, prosecutor, and police in this matter. They have nothing to do with gun control laws; the same situation could arise with drugs or child porn given strict liability laws against those, both of which are illegal in the US.

    So I’d appreciate it if Americans could refrain from butting in with ill-informed crowing about how great the second amendment is.

    As for the ‘needed killing’ defence, it’s charmingly pithy but ultimately of most use to people in racist communities who want to kill blacks without censure. I prefer the rule of law.

  • Grant

    The jury were legally correct to convict since it is a ‘strict liability’ offence (strict liability for possession offences is obviously retarded in the first place.)

    But they should have judged the law wanting and used their power of Jury Nullification to ignore it. The only possible excuse for not doing that is if they didn’t realise they had that power.

    Which they may well not have. AFAIK courts don’t go out of their way to inform juries of their rights, which is shameful in itself.

  • SageM

    And the British scoff at Americans for not wanting to walk down this utterly insane and entirely predictable path, all while their violent crime rate surges past that of the US.

  • Mike43

    Did you not ever hear of jury nullification? That would happen when a jury believes the prosecutor or police are over-reaching their boundaries.

    In Texas, where I live, we also have the “some men just needed killing” defense. That works as well.

    It seems you all are less citizens and more governed.

  • Dennis

    Where were the prosecutors in this? Didn’t they have the discretion to not go forward with the charges? Is there hope for a pardon?

  • terence patrick hewett

    This case has now gone around the world. Its everywhere. The Surrey Police, the Jury and the Judge, our judicial system and the Labour Government who have enacted so much legislation of this sort have earned the contempt of the world. You are a laughing stock. Congratulations.

  • BM

    If England adopted the Scottish verdict, then jury nullification would have been a viable option.

  • Dirty Euro

    That is just scummy police up to their old tricks again. They are too scared to hunt real crimi8nals so they go after do gooders as easy targets.

  • vanderleun

    Ah, England. Sad but as a free country you are over, finished, clapped out, done…. gone to join the choir invisible, just another dead parrot nailed to its perch. Buh-Bye… hope that soldier gets out when he gets out.

  • john miller

    Compare and contrast.

    Baroness Scotland – remember her?- designed the law such that the relevant offence was not taking a copy of the documents. It was irrelevant whether you said you saw them, if you didn’t keep a copy then you were in cac. So, it was the equivalent of a “strict liability” offence.

    Except there, BS just explained to everyone that, hey, its just like the congestion charge and , bingo! £5,000 later the law maker was in the clear.

    BUT. If you aren’t all the things that Baroness Scotland is (and you may create your own list at this point), the State take a rather different view, doesn’t it? No legions of ministers and heads of quangos rushing to the media saying “she didn’t mean it therefore she is innocent”.

    No, instead, there is the shrug of the shoulders and 5 years porridge for the poor sod who became an enemy of the State.

    The irony is, of course, that it was the government in the 1960s that crapped itself about anarchy within the citizenry; in the 00s it is the citizen that has to worry about anarchy within the ruling classes.

  • Charles

    It seems clear that (based on the facts reported) the jury was right to convict…and the judge would be right to give an unconditional discharge. Beats me why the police and the CPS chose to prosecute though!

  • Yow Min Lye

    Quite possibly the ‘most enraging’ story, Alex. However, the competition is stiff…

  • In2minds

    The UK police live in a bubble. They imagine the whole of the population is happy with their super-chump ways and would like more.

  • John Edwards

    Apparently according to the article this is a “strict liability” offence to which there is no legal defence. One would have hoped that the jury would have acquited nonetheless.

    I am guessing but perhaps the purpose of this offence is to prevent criminals caught in possession of a firearm claiming that they “found it”.

  • Bunnykins

    Utterly unbelievable. Our society has become a joke. But perhaps still more enraging is the fact that the Spectator chooses to award the very people who are guilty of turning this country into such a ridiculous place. A ‘dispiriting business’ indeed.

  • Geoff Miller

    This is not an exception:-

    Ten days in Britain…

  • terence patrick hewett

    Didn’t the poor man know that you avoid contact with the police under all circumstances. They are more dangerous than the criminals themselves.

  • Hysteria

    WTF? There MUST be more to this story – surely….?

  • JohnAnt

    “including the jury” – no, first and foremost the jury. We’re used to police who simply try to gain convictions, and judges who are bloody fools.
    But why on earth did an English jury convict on this evidence?
    (Unless perhaps the jury was of such a composition as to be prejudiced against British soldiers? )

  • JohnBUK

    I suppose a few years ago, like you said, I’d have treated this as one of those silly stories that must have appeared in the Daily Sport or similar. Now of course we’ve come to realise this is the norm.
    It is the usual issue of the “Law” and “Justice” which us poor naive fools believed were related in some way. No more, sadly. The Law is a game practised by those who make their living from it and Justice is just one of the outcomes that may or may not arise from that game.