Is sending ex-SAS soldier Albert Patterson to prison for owning a Falklands ‘trophy’ pistol wrong? Should his sentence be suspended?
The Defence Editor of The Sun newspaper, David Willetts is calling on the British public to help ex-soldier Albert Patterson have his 15 month jail sentence suspended.
Patterson, 65, is a formed Special Air Services (SAS) veteran who has been recently jailed for keeping a trophy handgun that he took during the Falklands war. Patterson kept the unloaded 9mm pistol in his cellar at his Hereford home, after seizing it from an Argentinian officer during the 1982 campaign. He was arrested after the weapon was uncovered by police probing an unrelated burglary.
During sentencing Judge Christopher Plunkett hailed his service to the SAS – but said he had no choice but to jail him after he admitted possessing the pistol, plus ammunition, four Enfield pistols, and a rifle component.
The Sun believes the sentence is unjust.
They argue that the weapons were never loaded or used in the UK, and they were not in the public domain. Further, because of Albert’s post-SAS work in security for non-government organisations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he missed an SAS weapons amnesty where he could have safely returned the weapons. In addition, others have gone free for the same offence. Last month Dale Robinson, 28, got a two-year term suspended for 18 months after admitting possessing a firearm and ammo at Northampton crown court.
The Sun argues that Judge Plunkett should show compassion and common-sense and suspend Patterson’s jail term. The illegal possession of firearms should be treated seriously, of course, but this case has unique and there are major extenuating circumstances to it.
The counter-side of this argument has been very well articulated in an email to me by a former soldier.
That email said: “The gentlemen concerned would have been fully aware what he had done and was doing was illegal, and in effect made an active decision every day since 1982 to break the law. The amnesty thing is a red herring. A man like that “coming clean” and speaking to the authorities proactively would expect the matter to be dealt with with no prosecution, and he would know that.”
“That fact that he was ex SAS and served his country bravely is frankly irrelevant. As is the fact it was locked in his cellar (that other people ended up having access to).”
“As a former professional soldier he therefore should have known better and the penalty is a potential penalty that he took the risk on and lost.”
“One of the duties soldiers have in our democratic society is to live by and respect the rules as every other citizen does. We cannot make exceptions because they are “good blokes” and do or used to wear uniform. The sort of societies where military are treated differently from the rule of law is not the sort of society we should aspire to… We must apply the law regardless of employment circumstance.”
My initial sentiment was to support the Sun. However, this email made me consider that the law, as ever, is a complicated, multi-faceted beast. My heart says that the judge should forgive Patterson. My intellect – such as it is – suggests that the law should impose its rule as evenly as possible.
The Sun knows that it will garner much support for an ex-soldier. Ex-soldiers are often deserving of the public’s support. Initially I gave mine. But the more I am informed as to the circumstances of this case, the more I wonder if it is not as black and white as I first thought.
This article has been changed from its original posting.
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