A MAN who bought a broken air pistol for his ‘Army mad’ son at a car boot sale, put himself at risk of a five-year prison sentence.

The weapon and four cartridges were recovered from landscape gardener Peter Bellis’s van after police pulled him over, on suspicion of drink driving.

Durham Crown Court was told Bellis fled the vehicle and tried to hide in bushes, having been stopped in Front Street, Quebec, at 11.40pm on September 15.

But he then returned to the van and told police what they would find under his coat on the front passenger seat.

Shaun Dryden, prosecuting, said Bellis tested positive for drink driving and has since been dealt with at the magistrates’ court for excess alcohol.

But, he was also charged with possessing a prohibited firearm.

The 49-year-old defendant, of Castle Bank, Tow Law, admitted the offence at a previous hearing, which left him facing a mandatory five-year sentence unless he could prove “exceptional” circumstances relating to his possession of the weapon.

Giving evidence to the sentencing hearing, he said he bought it at a car boot sale in Seaham two weeks earlier, for £30, knowing it was incapable of being fired, as the trigger and hammer were not in working order, which was confirmed by a police firearms expert following examination.

Asked by his counsel, David Lamb, if he appreciated at the time it was illegal to possess the weapon, Bellis replied: “No idea. I would never have bought it.”

He told the court it was for his 11-year-old “Army mad” son to mount, which he did with other weapons in his collection.

“It wasn’t to play with. It was to put on the wall,” said Bellis.

Photographic evidence of those other mounted firearms were presented to the court.

Bellis said he was in the process of moving from the marital home and was transferring it to his new property, following a separation from his wife.

Mr Dryden put no questions to the defendant and Mr Lamb said this was because the Crown could not “gainsay” the explanation given to the court.

Having read character references presented on the defendant’s behalf, Judge James Adkin said even if he was persuaded by the defendant’s account, “it’s still pretty troubling he was driving round the roads of County Durham with a realistic looking firearm on his car seat.

“Some might consider it a slightly unhealthy preoccupation for a father to encourage his son to do.

“But, it seems to me, in the circumstances of this case, I’m prepared to accept this account.

“I’m not sure that this weapon was possessed for any nefarious purpose.”

Imposing a ten-month prison sentence, however, Judge Adkin said there still had to be some form of deterrence in the sentence, even if it was much reduced from the five-year norm.