Police swoop on military gun collector as he drives to his mum's
When passers-by saw the butt of John Smith's German machine gun on the back seat of a vintage car, they were quick to call the police to investigate.Soon members of an armed response unit had surrounded the 1954 Wolseley Six Eighty, parked on double yellow lines, and were about the smash a window to grab the weapon when they were approached by 56-year-old John Smith.
The car was his, he explained, and when he lifted up a blanket on the back seat, he revealed not only a Steyr MP 34 machine gun, but two pistols and a Wehrmacht uniform.
Smith insisted that, far from posing a danger to the public, all the weapons were harmless — merely props for a Second World War battle enactment in which he was due to take part the next day.
Yesterday, the incident, in Hoyland, South Yorkshire, landed Smith before a judge after he refused to hand over the historic guns to police for destruction and was charged with possessing an imitation firearm in a public place.
After five costly court appearances, the 1940s enthusiast was given back his beloved military artefacts after Judge Michael Murphy said it would be “an act of vandalism” to destroy them.
He told Smith at Sheffield Crown Court: “I am quite satisfied that you are not a criminal and this is part of your hobby. I don’t want historical artefacts to be destroyed and so I am not going to make an order to destroy these things.”
The court heard that Smith, from Barnsley, was taking his German uniform to be washed and pressed at his mother’s home ready for a “living history” display by the Northern World War Two Association when he stopped off at a friend’s flat. The society specialises in staging battle re-enactments for the public using a full range of period weapons and vehicles.
Smith had packed the deactivated 1934 machine-gun and its bayonet, worth £3,000, along with two replica pistols, a Walther PPK and a P38 automatic, and some deactivated rounds of ammunition. The PPK was held together by Sellotape and the P38 only fires blanks.
Neil Coxon, prosecuting, said: “He spent two hours [at his friends’ home] and police were alerted because the gun was on the back seat. An armed response unit turned up and were on the point of putting a window through on the Wolseley when Mr Smith walked out of a flat 50 yards away.”
Mr Coxon said Smith was not prepared for the police to seize the guns and destroy them because they were valuable to him and the police felt they had no option but to press charges.
Smith was due to stand trial but Judge Murphy argued that “common sense” should prevail. The judge said he hoped Smith had learned a “salutary lesson” with the police response, which reflected the times we live in. “What happened in Captain Mainwaring’s time couldn’t happen now,” the judge added.
Smith pleaded guilty but was allowed to keep his guns on condition they are in a locked cabinet at home and locked in his car boot while in transit. He was given a 12-month conditional discharge.