Published: 10:45, 14 November 2017
An “eccentric and obsessive” pensioner is facing prison after he was found to have a massive arsenal of guns and ammunition following a fire at his home, a court heard.
Paul Bushell kept around 160 firearms, some of which were loaded and included machine guns and Russian-made AKM 47 rifles, in a basement and top floor room at his Edwardian mid-terrace house in Nelson Road, Gillingham.
The 74-year-old former oil company supervisor was said to be fascinated with the weapons and not to have them for any criminal intent.
But the married voluntary worker could be jailed under a minimum five-year sentence after admitting seven offences of possessing a prohibited weapon and six of possessing ammunition without a firearm certificate.
Maidstone Crown Court heard Bushell, the son of a firearms instructor, and his wife were at a 70th birthday luncheon for a friend on May 7 this year when they were told their house was on fire.
Prosecutor Ian Foinette said Bushell told to a pal: “I have done something wrong. I am in a lot of trouble.” He added he needed to get away before the police got him.
“That was a reference to his knowledge that inevitably the fire brigade having gone into his house they would discover his arsenal of weapons,” said Mr Foinette.
“Indeed, approximately 160 weapons were found in the house and a considerable amount of ammunition. The counts on the indictment reflect part of what was found.”
They included a 9mm Luker calibre Sten Mk2 hybrid, .303 British calibre Mk1 machine gun, 7.62 x 51mm calibre Armalite AR10 rifle, 9mm Luger calibre RPB Industries M10 sub-machine gun, 9mm Luger calibre Kommando semi-automatic pistol, 7.62 x 39mm calibre AKM47 rifle and 9mm Short calibre FN 1910 semi-automatic pistol.
The ammunition charges involve 136 cartridges.
Mr Foinette said firefighters dealing with the electrical blaze came across a room in the basement area where most of the guns were stored.
“There were sub-machine guns, AK47s and Luger pistols,” he said. “He knew very well what the fire brigade would find.
“The defendant, it seems, for many years has been a collector of firearms of one sort or another.
He indicated his principal interest had been clocks, taking them apart and putting them back together again.
“The same was happening as far as firearms were concerned.
The search took police four days. None were in a particularly secure area. There was no question of gun cabinets.
“It is difficult to see how with a full scale armoury that could have been done in any event. There was a fire in the house. The ammunition was there and could easily have exploded.
“Had the house been broken into they could have been stolen ready to use. There is no evidence these firearms were used for any criminal purpose.
“Some had been deactivated and then reactivated. He had managed to keep all these weapons in the house without anyone else knowing about it.
“Officers spoke to family members. They said he was somewhat eccentric. He had indicated to one member of the family he had some ammunition and loaded it because he could.
“There is no evidence he is an underworld armourer or anything of that sort.”
Judge Philip Statman said: “The weapons could go on to be used potentially. The fear in the community is that such a cache is found in a private house.
“We live, sadly, in very dangerous times. There are issues of public policy here, it seems to me, which require anxious consideration over and above that which was set up all those years ago. A lot has happened in the last 20 years.”
Told that Bushell could have mental health issues having witnessed such horrors as a beheading in Saudi Arabia while working there, the judge said: “It is even more worrying that he should have these weapons in those circumstances.”
Adjourning sentence until tomorrow and granting bail, Judge Statman said: “My powers of punishment are very substantial indeed. I can’t go below five years, leaving aside exceptional circumstances.”
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