Policeman weeps in relief as jury clears him of gun charges
A PSNI officer wept in court yesterday as he was cleared of having too many guns in his home and not enough firearm certificates to cover them.
It took the jury at Antrim Crown Court sitting in Coleraine just an hour and a half to unanimously acquit Ryan McNeill (28).
Afterwards, in a clearly emotional state and flanked by family and friends, the Second World War battle re-enactment enthusiast said he was “exceptionally relieved at the verdict”.
He added: “My life has been on hold these past two years, although I have been delighted by the support I have received by my family and friends and work colleagues.”
In all, the suspended Co Londonderry constable, described as a “fanatical gun collector”, was cleared of a total of 15 separate firearms charges.
The first 10 counts accused McNeill, whose address was given as Limavady PSNI Station, of possessing a number of guns including a sub-machine gun, two pistols, a magnum revolver, a shotgun and over 60 rounds of ammunition and a magazine.
The other five charged him with having several so-called prohibited weapons designed to discharge electricity or any noxious liquid or gas.
At no time during the five-day trial did the prosecution claim that McNeill had the weapons for any illicit purposes.
Crown lawyer Neil Connor said “there is no suggestion he was about to start World War III... or about to rob a bank or hold up an off-licence”.
By their verdicts the jury accepted claims by defence lawyer Neil Rafferty that they were McNeill's “last line of defence against an over-zealous state pushing the boat out to prosecute one of its citizens”.
The jury accepted that when police uncovered the arms in his home in December 2008, McNeill was holding the weapons for a legitimate gun dealer for whom he worked part-time.
They also accepted McNeill's claims that the prohibited firearms were in fact decommissioned blank-firing weapons which had been stamped accordingly.
The jury rejected prosecution assertions that the policeman had the weapons for his own recreational purposes and was therefore not covered by the general firearms licence of his gun-dealer boss.
The PSNI last night declined to comment on the case.