Published: 11:00, 15 November 2017
An “eccentric and obsessive” pensioner who was found to have a massive arsenal of guns and ammunition after a fire at his home has been jailed for five years.
Paul Bushell kept around 160 firearms, some of which were loaded and included sub-machine guns and Russian-made AKM 47 rifles, in a basement and top floor room at his Edwardian mid-terrace house in 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 a judge said the offences were “grave” and imposed the minimum sentence on the married voluntary worker who admitted seven offences of possessing a prohibited weapon and six of possessing ammunition without a firearm certificate.
Judge Philip Statman told Bushell: "These are grave offences committed by you, a person who knew exactly what you were doing, knowing well fine what the law requires.
"You had a firearms certificate. You did everything you could to enhance your collection of firearms without due regard to compliance with the law.
"You knew what the law said. You chose to ignore the law. You posed at your home address a very considerable risk to the community as a whole.
"I have no hesitation in indicating this is a case where the minimum sentence must apply. I take the view a sentence of five years imprisonment serves the justice of this case and reflects properly the way the Crown has proceeded against you."
The judge continued: “We live, I emphasise, in very dangerous times indeed. For this collection to have the potential of being taken from your home and used elsewhere, gives this court very profound concern indeed.”
When police checked Bushell’s computer they found he had accessed blueprints for reassembling guns that had been deactivated.
“It is not suggested you have criminal links to the underworld, nor is it suggested that you have acted as an armourer,” said Judge Statman.
“The Crown accepts that for something like 50 years you have been fascinated by guns. Your fascination extends not just to guns, but to other articles which may be the subject of repair, such as antique clocks.
“You have built up over the years a substantial collection of guns. This has led to you having within you a huge knowledge of the manner in which guns can be stripped down, how they can be reconstructed and, indeed, reactivated.
“It goes without saying there is an irresistible conclusion to be draw you more than anyone would know the danger in possessing weapons of this kind.
“The destruction that potentially they can cause, particularly should they have fallen into the hands of criminals.”
"For this collection to have the potential of being taken from your home and used elsewhere, gives this court very profound concern indeed" - Judge Philip Statman
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 in Nelson Road 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 Luger 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 some 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.”
The judge said Bushell’s home was separated in such a way so that were no go areas for other members of his family, including his wife.
The weapons were not kept under strict security and ammunition could be seen in photos strewn about the house. Some of the guns were loaded.
“Indeed, you fired some of those items within the confines or your home address,” said Judge Statman. “It doesn’t taken an enormous amount of imagination to see the risk that would take place to the community as a whole if your home address had ever been the subject of burglary.
Bushell wrote a letter to the fire service stating: “Since the fire I have been having nightmares about what could have happened to the brave and courageous personnel of the fire service.
“I thank them for saving my house from destruction. I am so remorseful of putting them in extreme danger. I am also relieved none of them were injured.”
The judge said: “How right you were in terms of those observations.”
He added: “I particularly bear in mind I am imposing a prison sentence at a time when you have reached the age of 74.
“Sadly, the world has become far more dangerous place in the last 20 years. I am satisfied so I am sure this is a case where exceptional circumstances simply do not arise.”
Judge Statman said he would not go “over and above” the minimum sentence because Bushell’s mitigation was “of considerable significance”.
Speaking after the sentencing, senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Susan Smith, said: "Bushell had a staggering collection of guns which if they were to get into the wrong hands could have been catastrophic, and while our investigation led us to be satisfied that the guns were for his own use and not to sell onto criminals, it was still not only illegal but very dangerous.
"Today’s sentencing also highlights the importance of Kent Police’ current firearms surrender and I would encourage anyone who owns a firearm but no longer wishes to keep it to hand it in to their local police station or contact us via 101 to arrange for it to be collected.
"Bushell will now serve a lengthy prison sentence, something he did not consider when storing these weapons in his house and this should serve as a reminder to anyone who may have such a weapon without an appropriate certificate that this is a criminal offence and will result in a criminal conviction and most likely a jail term."
Sarah Dineley from the Crown Prosecution Service added: "These weapons were not locked away and were kept loaded in a house that children visited regularly.
"The possible consequences were obvious and serious. Had the property been burgled, they could have easily fallen into the hands of criminals.
"They also posed a serious risk to the firefighters who attended the home, given the weapons were recovered from inside the fire-damaged room."