Jailed Norfolk gun 'offender' freed

Christine CunninghamThe son of a leading Norfolk farmer and veteran TV broadcaster who was given a five-year jail term after mistakenly importing an illegal gun was given his best birthday present when he received a reprieve from a judge and was allowed to walk free from court.Christine Cunningham

The son of a leading Norfolk farmer and veteran TV broadcaster who was given a five-year jail term after mistakenly importing an illegal gun was last night given his best birthday present ever when he received a last-minute reprieve by a judge and was allowed to walk free from court.

Andrew Richardson, who celebrates his 49th birthday today, accidentally shipped a lethal revolver and ammunition from America, where he had been living, when he returned to live in the county 12 years ago.

It sat, forgotten, in storage for 12 years before a dispute over an unpaid bill led to it be uncovered.

But the mishap cost him his liberty after he was prosecuted under a law designed to prevent gangland crime and gun running.

However, yesterday it emerged that a technicality meant that his committal from Norwich Magistrates' Court to the crown court had not followed the correct procedures and so he had his sentence rescinded by Recorder Peter Guest at a hearing at Norwich Crown Court.

It means that Mr Richardson, the son of broadcaster David Richardson, was immediately released from prison having spent the past nine days in a prison cell, but he will now have to face a whole new set of proceedings, this time following the correct procedures laid down.

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After a brief appearance at the magistrates' court, his case is due to be heard again at the crown court on March 26.

As he walked free, there was an emotional reunion with his family including his wife Rose and father David, who were left in shock at the severity of the sentence he received.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Richardson said: 'I think I have to say that for somebody of non- criminal mind, who has never had a criminal thought or criminal intent in his life, those first 24 hours felt like two years.'

He said he had not told his family about the proceedings because he wanted to spare them any embarrassment and did not expect to get sent to prison.

His father commented: 'It is far from all over but it will be lovely to have him back home.'

Mrs Richardson added: 'It is the best birthday present we could have hoped for.'

The court heard that Mr Richardson, of Damgate Street, Wymondham, who is of previous good character, had been charged with possession of an illegal gun, a .22 revolver, and ammunition without a certificate. A police check revealed the gun had not been used in any known crimes.

However, the wrong procedure was followed when he pleaded guilty at the magistrates' court and was sent to the crown court for sentence as the case should have been sent straight to the crown court without a plea being taken.

His barrister Tom Allen told the court that Mr Richardson had spent nine days in jail for what was an 'unlawful sentence'.

Mr Richardson fell foul of the tighter gun laws which were introduced in 2004 to allow far stricter sentences to serve as a deterrent to those who are in unlawful possession of firearms. Five years is the minimum sentence available to the court unless the court was of the opinion that there were exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or the offender which justify it not doing so.