Judge ‘simply wrong’ to flout minimum sentences for gun crime

Legislation calling for tougher sentences for individuals convicted of gun crimes is being ignored by judges, a senior police officer has said.

Bernard Hogan-Howe, chief constable of Merseyside police, said it was “simply wrong” for mandatory five-year sentences for possession of a firearm to be overlooked.

Despite government attempts to toughen up sentencing, in 2005 the average sentence for possessing a firearm was 47 months and only two in five offenders received the minimum five-year jail term.

Mr Hogan-Howe, whose force is investigating the fatal shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, called on the judiciary to issue “very heavy sentences” to convicted gun criminals.

“The message the criminal justice system sends out about the serious consequences that flow from possessing a firearm is an important part of deterring people from carrying guns,” the chief constable told the Times.

“Generally I feel the judiciary are supportive about what we are trying to do about gun crime and we have seen some excellent sentences which send out the right message.

“But I would like to see that happen more consistently,” he continued. “Locally there is evidence of sentencing where the power has been available and not been used and that is simply wrong. I want very heavy sentences for possession of firearms which would deter people from arming others or carrying guns themselves.”

A spokesperson at the Ministry of Justice insisted sentencing in individual cases was a matter for the courts and said mandatory five-year sentences were a “staring point”.

“Judges must then take aggravating and mitigating factors into consideration when determining the final sentence,” the representative added.

“We consider that the five-year mandatory minimum has had an impact. Average sentences have increased from 18 months in 1995 to 47 months in 2005.”

Commenting on the chief constable’s claims, shadow home secretary David Davis accused the government of failing “to get a grip” on gun crime.

“The problem is, [the government is] happy to pass tough laws in order to get a good headline only to simply not enforce them – allowing the situation to deteriorate at great risk to the public,” Mr Davis said.

“As well as failing to enforce the law, our porous borders allow weapons to simply flow into the country while the government’s failure to combat the scourge of drugs also fuels so much violent crime.”