A County Durham man with a collection of lawfully-held weapons innocently ordered a shotgun over the internet from Hong Kong, believing it was a legitimate purchase, a court heard.

Paul Winstanley bought what he believed to be an airsoft gun for which he thought he did not require a firearms certificate.

But it was found to have been illegally shortened, when police attended his home in Ullswater Crescent, Crook, on December 18, last year.

Durham Crown Court was told armed officers went there following a report that he intended to take his own life.

The Northern Echo: Paul Winstanley jailed at Durham Crown Court for two years for firearms offences

Jonathan Harley, prosecuting, said the officers attending found a large number of realistic-looking BB guns and knives.

Winstanley told the officers he also had a “Mad Max” gun, appearing to look like a side-by-side shotgun.

Mr Harley said the officers retrieved it and said it felt like a genuine weapon.

On examination, it was assessed to be a 12-gauge JW-200 side-by-side shotgun, but as the barrels had been shortened it was a prohibited weapon.

Mr Harley said it had been adapted and fitted with an airsoft kit capable of firing airsoft shells.

When tested after the airsoft adaptations were removed, the shotgun was successfully fired.

The removed parts of the original weapon were found elsewhere in the property.

When interviewed, Winstanley said he bought it in good faith as an airsoft gun from a company in Hong Kong, for which he had evidence of the transaction.

The 46-year-old defendant admitted charges of possessing a firearm without a certificate and possessing a prohibited firearm at the plea hearing earlier this year.

The Northern Echo:

Mr Harley told the court that the defendant has “relevant convictions”, including possessing a firearm without a certificate and malicious communication, for which he received a 12-week suspended prison sentence, in 2018.

That conviction was for an offence committed in November 2017 when he contacted the police while intoxicated threatening to kill someone if officers did not go to his address.

Police attended immediately and found him in possession of a firearm for which a certificate was required.

Duncan McReddie, representing Winstanley, told the court that his client was, “most insistent” that the offending firearm in this case was not an assault weapon.

Judge Jo Kidd noted that in interview the defendant gave “full and frank” details as to how the weapon was acquired and it was, “entirely unintentional” that his ownership of it was illegal.

“He believed he was entitled to hold the weapon legally and I’m also persuaded by way of extensive psychiatric reports that his long-standing mental health situation may have impacted on his decision to purchase this item in the first place.

“His alcohol misuse derives from the psychiatric problems.”

Mr McReddie said everything that could be advanced on his client’s behalf had been done so, in an effort to persuade the judge not to pass the minimum term of five years for possessing a prohibited weapon.

The Northern Echo: Paul Winstanley received a two year sentence but was spared the minimum five year term for

Judge Kidd told Mr McReddie she understood the defendant was going through, “a particularly bad period of mental health while drinking to excess."

She said: "He formed a pattern of calling the police or a charity referencing his suicidal state and referencing he has weapons.”

She said the consequences were that heavily armed police attended his home creating a potential risk to the public, in a residential street, or to the defendant, himself.

Mr McReddie said the defendant “wishes to apologise for the inconvenience he has caused in engineering this situation.”

Judge Kidd said in the circumstances of the case she was persuaded to “draw back” from the minimum five-year sentence.

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But she told Winstanley that in the state he was in that day, "It was exceptionally good fortune it did not cause the police to fire any weapons in the situation they found themselves in, due to your actions."

Imposing a two-year prison sentence, she also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the offending weapon.

She said the defendant would serve half of the two-year sentence behind bars and warned him that if he committed any further offence in the licence period he would be returned to custody.