TWO GUNDOG owners who were convicted of illegally using a firearm in public whilst training their dogs have had their sentences imposed by a Magistrates Court quashed on appeal to Crown Court.
Flatcoated Retriever exhibitor Sue Jones and fellow Flatcoat owner Jacqui Crew were found guilty in October 2006 at St Albans Magistrate Court under Section 19 of the Firearms Act of ‘having an imitation firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse’. The two women were out training their gundogs using a starting pistol in a wood that has shooting rights over it, with the permission of the shoot tenant.
Sue Jones won the Gundog Group at Crufts in 2002 with her Flatcoated retriever Sh Ch Gayplume Dream-maker (Joker) and was out training his son Rumpus (Gayplume Flamboyant at Suchanoich) with some cold game in Symondshyde Wood, near Hatfield, Herts, with Jacqui Crew and her Flatcoat, when they were approached by two police officers who said they were investigating a report by a member of the public that two women were at large in the woods with a handgun.
Symondshyde Wood is a rural isolated woodland just outside of Hatfield that is owned by the Marquis of Salisbury; a local farmer has shooting rights over the whole of the wood and he was happy for Crew to do her gundog training there as she picks up for him regularly during the shooting season.
At St Albans Crown Court on Monday of this week His Honour Judge Plumstead made it clear from the outset that he was on the side of the appellant indicating that he did not think he would need to hear evidence from her. Judge Plumstead said that he couldn't believe that such a case had come to criminal court.
The Crown's case rested largely on the fact that the ‘offence’ took place in an area within the wood to which the public had access but the judge pointed out that with the right to roam nowadays virtually everywhere is open to public access and therefore a ‘public place’.
The Crown called the private witness who had originally alerted police to the ‘two women with a handgun in the woods’ and he gave evidence to the effect that he knew it was a starting pistol and that if he hadn't happened to have passed a police car on the way home he would have gone home and forgotten all about it and ‘that he thought the whole process was a waste of tax payers money’.
At that stage the judge told the prosecuting barrister that he was going to adjourn whilst the barrister took instruction from the Crown Prosecution Service. When he returned the barrister announced to the Court that the CPS did not feel it was appropriate or in the public interest to continue to defend the appeal.
Although Crew abandoned her appeal some weeks ago, she was present to give evidence for Jones and the defence barrister made a successful application for her appeal to be heard 'Out of Time' which the judge allowed. Thus Crew’s conviction was also quashed at the same hearing Jones’ barrister then made an application for costs and after discussion it was agreed that the costs of the Appeal would be paid from Central Funds but that the costs of the original Magistrates court hearing should be borne by the two women.
Sue Jones told OUR DOGS: ‘Thank goodness at last common sense has prevailed. Having a firearms conviction is a very serious matter and I couldn't let the matter rest until I had fought it as far as I could. We are all used to seeing and/or using starting pistols in connection with our hobby so hopefully this has made everyone stop and think and may prevent anyone else having to go through the nightmare of the last year.
‘I hope too that this will ensure that in future this particular law will be used for what it was intended for and not to prosecute two law-abiding middle-aged ladies out training their dogs on a Sunday afternoon - I can't imagine that Parliament had that in mind when they passed this law.
What a huge waste of public funds this has been by the Crown Prosecution Service.’
Jacqui Crew paid tribute to her friend for her determination to see the Appeal through and thanked her for sticking together on the issue. ‘To say we are delighted at the outcome is an understatement,’ she said.