Another Disgraceful Prosecution

22 June 2010

12:53 AM

22 June 2010

12:53 AM

Like the Devil’s Kitchen, I’m late getting to this story travesty. The most enraging aspect of it is, of course, that one can no longer be surprised by this kind of behaviour. Yet again the police and the criminal justice system prove themselves out of touch with common sense or decency.

A grandmother has been jailed for five years for possessing a "family heirloom" World War II pistol. Gail Cochrane, 53, had kept the gun for 29 years following the death of her father, who had been in the Royal Navy.
Police found the weapon, a Browning self-loading pistol, during a search of her home in Dundee while looking for her son. She admitted illegal possession of the firearm, an offence with a minimum five-year jail term under Scots law.
Cochrane told the High Court in Edinburgh that she had never contemplated she might be committing a crime by keeping the gun or that she might need to get a licence for the weapon. She said: "I thought it was just a war trophy."
Defence solicitor advocate Jack Brown argued that the circumstances surrounding the case were exceptional and that it would be "draconian, unjust and disproportionate" to jail the grandmother-of-six.

Well of course they are. "Draconian, unjust and disproportionate" is only the beginning of it. Needless to say, this cut no ice with the judge:

However, Judge Lady Smith said: "I am not satisfied that a reasonable explanation has been put forward for not handing this gun into the authorities throughout the 29-year period she says she has had it in her possession."

The judge said she was unable to find herself satisfied that this was one of the rare cases in which exceptional circumstances existed.

She said: "The result is I have no alternative but to sentence Mrs Cochrane to a period of five years."


On the contrary, on the face of it the judge had every alternative. Indeed she admits as much before deciding that there’s nothing unusual about this case that could justify her applying some measure of basic common sense. Then again, if the authorities didn’t scurry around creating victimless crimes or persecuting the innocent then what on earth would they do with themselves all day long?

I dare say that a pedantic, literal interpretation of the gun laws shows that Mrs Cochrane is indeed guilty – but she’s not nearly as guilty as those responsible for the injustice of mandatory prison sentences or the creation of crimes for which there’s no defence possible – but you would have thought that at some point someone would have paused to wonder if this prosecution is actually in the public interest. Apparently not.

And so a 53-year old woman faces five years in chokey. And for what? For failing to give her father’s service revolver to the police. Then again, if she had taken the Browning to the polis then who knows, she might have been charged with possession of a firearm anyway.

Maybe there’s more to this case than meets the eye (and that possibility must be admitted) but, on the face of it at least, this seems to be an unusually monstrous perversion of justice – even by the lofty standards set by the narrow-minded goons who litter the criminal justice system. Then again too, our gun laws are a shambles and a nonsense so none of this should come as any surprise.

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
  • ndm

    — If the sentence is unfair and disproportionate then blame Parliament for passing the law.

    Mandatory sentences are always problematic. Parliament passes law in a given cultural context. The context regarding crime is always that created by populist right-wing media braying for blood and more blood. There is never a political downside to voting for more draconian punishment while on a party level there is significant downside from the condemnation of the right-wing media.

  • Augustus

    Was it loaded? Did she have ammunition? Must make a difference to intent? Now…er,
    when did I last see my late father’s Swiss Luger?

  • Indy

    Having read the full story in the Courier it appears that the Judge told Mrs Cochrane that it was an aggravating factor that her son had prior convictions for assault and carrying a knife and that she herself had a previous conviction, from 2001, for assault to severe injury. The Judge said they had both given differing accounts about the time when the gun was put under the mattress and whether the son knew of its existence.

    So, while it’s still probably an overly harsh sentence, it’s not quite as bonkers as it first seems.

  • dapplegrey

    “There could be a lot of other people who have firearms that were war souvenirs.”

    Yes indeed – and the firearms could well be stuffed in an old box in the attic with the descendants of the owner unaware of their existence. My late father had a couple of World War II German revolvers which he had taken off two soldiers whom he took prisoner, and when the government tightened up gun laws he regretfully threw them into the sea.

  • Indy

    AngloWelshDragon – if her son was charged with armed robbery, for example, would you still think it was not relevant that the police found a gun hidden under his mother’s mattres?

  • AngloWelshDragon

    Indy June 22nd, 2010 10:40am

    What her son was upto is surely irrelevant. His mother was the one on trial for possession not him. This prosecution should never have taken place.

  • The Voice of Reason

    Of course, unless we know the full facts of the case we can’t finally decide all the rights and wrongs.

    But on the facts as given I think it is unfair to blame the police for doing their job of enforcing the law. And unfair to blame the judge for doing her job of passing the sentence that the law stipulates. If the sentence is unfair and disproportionate then blame Parliament for passing the law. Parliament ought to think things through properly before passing legislation. A *mandatory* minimum of 5 years for this crime seems heavily disproportionate to me. And I have some doubt that this case is really so exceptional. There could be a lot of other people who have firearms that were war souvenirs.

  • asbolondon

    Or it may be the judge knows exactly what she is doing. Remember Denning: “The way to change bad law is not to ignore it, but to enforce it”

  • TC

    Some intent to do what? Protect herself from burglars or other intruders? Why on earth shouldn’t she keep a gun under her mattress for that purpose? Illegal it may be, but in this area the law is clearly an ass.

  • Indy

    I agree that, on the face of it, this is madness.

    But .. the gun was found when the police were searching the house to look for her son who had failed to appear in cout. What was he charged with I wonder?

    We’re not necessarily getting the full picture.

  • AndyinBrum

    If it wasn’t stashed under her mattress, but in a box of stuff in the loft, I would have more sympathy, but under the mattress suggests some intent.

  • Cuffleyburgers


    I entirely share your outrage about this sentence.

    However there is a caveat and that is the point made by some of the commenters on the DK thread, which is that the pistol was found under the mattress – that would rather indicate there is more to this than we are being told.

    Regrettably, the fact that plod are able to lock aomebody up for 5 years merely for possession without having to investigate the properly relevant facts means that we shall probably never know.