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Belfast man Francis Smith jailed after rifle 'for shooting vermin' found in attic of flat


Guilty pleas: Francis Smith

Guilty pleas: Francis Smith

Guilty pleas: Francis Smith

A Belfast man caught in possession of a rifle found in the roof space of his flat has been handed an 18-month prison sentence.

Francis Gerard Patrick Smith, from Glenmurray Court, claimed he bought the weapon in a local pub and used it to kill vermin.

The 40-year-old was informed by Judge Patricia Smyth that he will spend nine months of the sentence in jail, with the remaining nine on supervised licence.

Belfast Crown Court heard that Smith was alcohol dependant and had a range of health issues stemming from a hatchet attack in 2012.

The court also heard that while Smith initially denied knowing about the rifle and ammunition found in his flat, the Crown was not accepting his claim that he bought the gun to kill vermin.

At a previous hearing, prosecutor Philip Henry said Smith's home - at the time a flat on Springfield Road - was searched on February 26 last year.

Both the rifle and an air gun were located in a bag in the roof space of the property. Also found during the search was a silencer and a total of 50 .22 calibre bullets.

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Mr Henry said the rifle had been stolen during the burglary of a property in January 2015, and that the previous owner had used it for recreational shooting on a firing range.

Telling Judge Smyth that the defendant was not facing any charges linked to the burglary, the Crown barrister added there was no evidence the weapon had been used following the break-in.

Regarding the air gun, Mr Henry said it had been designed to resemble a Beretta self-loading pistol, but that at the time of the search was not functioning.

Mr Henry also said that after he was arrested Smith was interviewed by police but gave a "no comment" response.

He did, however, subsequently plead guilty to four charges - two counts of possessing a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possessing ammunition in suspicious circumstances, and possessing an air gun without a firearms certificate.

Defence barrister Neil Fox said his client was an alcoholic who was in need of treatment and was more a danger to himself than to the public.

Revealing it was Smith's case that he purchased the rifle to shoot vermin, Mr Fox said the weapon in question was neither easy to carry about nor the type of gun usually associated with paramilitaries.

Mr Fox also said Smith's criminal record did not include any relevant offences, adding he hadn't been before the court in 13 years.

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