A transport lawyer has warned truck drivers not to bring illegal torch/stun gun combination devices into the UK because they risk a five-year prison sentence if caught with one.
Harry Bowyer, of Derby-based Smith Bowyer Clarke, said that because the devices are legal in Germany, some drivers buy them there and then bring them back to the UK.
He added: “They are legal in Germany but not here, so it is risky for anybody to bring them into the country.”
Bowyer said: “A number of drivers coming through the Channel ports, worried by the increasingly aggressive behaviour of clandestine entrants and the laissez-faire attitude of the French police, especially since the Brexit referendum, have been tempted to buy a stun gun for self-defence.
“These are more easily available on the continent and, at first blush, a more attractive prospect than a lethal weapon. Those drivers who have been stopped with such devices have been horrified by the level of trouble in which they have found themselves.”
Anybody found in possession of a stun gun is prosecuted under the Firearms Act 1968. This Act precedes the development of the stun gun, which began in 1969.
Former Nasa researcher Jack Cover, credited with developing the Taser stun gun, had completed its creation by 1974. He named it after a book featuring his childhood hero, Tom Swift, and the letters are said to stand for Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle.
The section of UK law under which those found in possession of torch/stun guns are normally charged prohibits “any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing”.
Bowyer noted that more recently stun guns have been found combined with other objects, most commonly mobile phones.
He said: “Prosecution lawyers have been opting to charge these objects under section 5(1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968, which prohibits possession of “any firearm which is disguised as another object”.
A defendant convicted of this offence faces a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment.
The appeal of a torch/stun gun combination is that when checking their vehicle they also have something to defend themselves with if they are faced with a clandestine. The stun gun, which is contained around the lens of the torch, produces a ring of sparks that crackle audibly as a deterrent to anyone faced with it.
One prosecution tactic has been to charge drivers with possessing a disguised firearm.
Bowyer has argued in court that no one would contend that a modern smartphone was a disguised camera, calculator or voice recorder. There was no element of, or intent to, disguise.
In this case the prosecution, after receiving skeleton arguments from the defence and hearing the judge’s preliminary views, accepted pleas to a lesser charge for which the defendant received a six-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months rather than five years’ immediate custody.
Bowyer’s advice to any driver thinking of buying one of the devices is straightforward: “The only possible advice to those tempted to have one of these devices in their cabs is – don’t. If caught you will attract a world of trouble out of all proportion to any perceived benefits of having it to hand.”