Last night I took a call from a Warwickshire shooter who says he's the victim of a miscarriage of justice. In the past year he has lost his guns, had to take considerable time off work (he's a professional truck driver), and says the stress has caused his wife health problems. He has given up hope of ever being allowed to shoot again, and says he simply wants to clear his name and put the whole sorry affair behind him.
Of course I only have his account to go on, but the gist of the story is this:
He used to shoot on land belonging to an elderly farmer, through which a footpath runs. At the farmer's request, on occasion he would ask people to keep their dogs under control and keep to the footpath. One day he returned from shooting and, as he was sorting out his kit and vehicle, two policemen arrived and told him he was under arrest - they wouldn't explain what for. He was taken to the police station and locked up for 11 hours while the police searched his home and removed all the guns, ammo, reloading equipment etc.
He was then charged with public order offences, on the grounds that he had threatened people with a gun. The story of his prosecution and court appearance is complicated, but he says that the alleged offences happened on dates when he could prove (via tachograph records etc) that he was working. The prosecution, apparently, changed the dates to times when he might have been there. He also says that the people he allegedly threatened were 300 yards from the person doing the threatening, and couldn't possibly have identified who it was.
He believes that pressure was put on the farmer to revoke his permission to shoot on the land, and his shotgun certificate was revoked. His 5 confiscated guns, meanwhile, were in storage. At some point he had to pay (£10 per gun per week) for their storage, which he could not afford, and he arranged for them to be sold at a nominal value (he says they should have been worth £6,500).
His case went to appeal, which he lost - again, he says, due to very shaky evidence presented by the prosecution.
Where were the shooting organisations in all this? Well, he says he turned to BASC and to SACS for help but, for whatever reason, they were unable to fight his case.
There is clearly more to this than meets the eye. For one, there is talk of an ongoing feud with another shooter who shoots on the same land. My caller believes he may have been mistaken for this chap who, he says, has a rather more aggressive manner. In fact, he says he is careful leaving his front door for fear of this chap taking a drive-by shot at him.
My journalist's instinct is telling me to dig deeper, although I fear I won't like what I find.
It does serve as a warning to all shooters. We have to be squeaky-clean to earn the right to keep guns. Even then, all it takes is a simple misunderstanding and your sport, life and family can be destroyed by a system that, quite rightly, puts public safety ahead of your individual rights. That also leaves us vulnerable to malicious allegations made by antis, or individuals with a personal grudge. Police should be aware of this, and look at all the angles before turning someone's life upside down.