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The boss of a falconry and wildlife centre who found a sawn-off shotgun on his land has been spared a mandatory minimum jail term of five years.
Alan Ames, who owns and runs Eagle Heights in Eynsford, was facing the lengthy spell behind bars after admitting possession of a prohibited firearm.
But Judge Charles Macdonald QC, sitting at Maidstone Crown Court, said it would be “arbitrary” to impose such a sentence on a man of “massive positive good character”.
He added that he had never come across a case where he had read so many positive references and sentenced Ames to 44 weeks imprisonment suspended for 18 months.
The court heard Ames, 56, of London Road, West Kingsdown, discovered the illegal shotgun on a public footpath after intruders had driven through a boundary fence onto his land in October last year.
He took the weapon, which was in a poor but fireable condition, back to his office at Eagle Heights and put it in a cabinet drawer.
Ames then telephoned his Neighbourhood Watch police officer and left a voicemail message to say “a few bits” had been left behind by trespassers.
However, Ames suffered a stroke a week later and was admitted to hospital the same day the officer visited Eagle Heights to follow up the call.
Ames, referred to as The Birdman on the Eagle Heights website, had told no one about the gun and had not returned to work by the time it was found by police in November. The court was told his stroke had also caused memory problems.
Following his arrest he agreed he should have contacted a firearms expert and told police: “I’m an idiot and I forgot.”
As part of his sentence, Ames must live at his home address for one month and pay £250 court costs.
The court was told Eagle Heights has been targeted by intruders and trespassers in the past.
The centre was established in 1996 and, according to its website, Ames is a lecturer for the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
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