Belfast Telegraph

Judge's fury over delay in testing 200-year-old guns

By George Jackson

A judge has said it is "scandalous and an absolute outrage" that tests on a pair of 200-year-old duelling pistols have still to be completed nine months after they were seized.

A 56-year-old man from Howth in Co Dublin has been in custody since last year awaiting the outcome of the forensic tests on his antique pistols.

Sean Lawlor was arrested when he showed the pistols to staff in Londonderry's Tower Hotel on November 26.

He had come to Derry with the intention of selling the weapons, but hotel staff alerted the police and the defendant was arrested.

He was charged with possessing the duelling pistols in suspicious circumstances and with possessing them without a firearms certificate.

A prosecution solicitor told the court that a final report on the firing capability of the pistols had yet to be carried out by the Forensic Science Laboratory. But the judge suggested that perhaps a quicker way to establish this would be to just pull the trigger and see what happened.

Defence solicitor Ciaran McGuinness said his client has been held in Maghaberry Prison since last November and he was currently in a very serious condition in hospital.

Mr McGuinness said one test had already been carried out but the scientists had since decided to forensically examine the pistols' primers. Those tests have yet to be carried out and no target date has been set for testing the antique weapons. The District Judge described the delay as "absolutely outrageous".

"These pistols are practically medieval," Mr McElholm said.

"Surely all that is required to be done is for the appropriate person in the Forensic Science Laboratory to take them to a firing range to see if they can be fired?"

He said he would refer the matter to the Justice Minister if he didn't get an answer soon.

"I say again, it is absolutely scandalous this length of delay. If this were England the testing would have been done months and months ago", he said.

The case was adjourned until August 28 to wait for a reply from the forensic lab.

Outside court, a spokesman for the Department of Justice told the Belfast Telegraph: "Forensic Science Northern Ireland can confirm that the examination of the firearms in this case was completed in March 2014 and passed to PSNI. A further submission in relation to the case, for chemical analysis, was received on 11 August and is being expedited."

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In May last year, Mr Justice Weir said a backlog at the Forensic Science laboratory was causing "enormous delays", adding the amount of time over "simple cases" was a "disgrace". He was speaking after hearing that the results of forensic tests carried out by police following the attempted murder of a young man left to die in a wheelie bin would not be known at least seven months.

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