Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 13:07 UK

Judge backs tougher gun sentences

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Grant Wilkinson
Grant Wilkinson converted replica guns into live weapons in a shed

A top judge has backed "punitive" sentences for gun trade criminals, saying they should suffer punishments similar to those using weapons.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said "deterrent" terms were essential to help protect the public.

He added that the gravity of gun crime meant that indeterminate jail terms were appropriate.

His comments mean that people involved in the supply or conversion of firearms should expect longer jail terms.

Lord Judge's ruling came as the Court of Appeal dismissed a series of appeals by men convicted of gun-related crime.

One of the men, Grant Wilkinson, 34, was jailed at Reading Crown Court for converting replica guns into live weapons in a secret factory.

Michael Dosunmu
Michael Dosunmu was shot with a gun converted in Wilkinson's operation

Police linked his guns to 50 shootings and eight murders. One of his guns was involved in the robbery that later led to the 2005 killing of Pc Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford.

Another gun converted at the factory was used to kill 15-year-old Michael Dosunmu as he slept at home in Peckham, south-east London, in February 2007.

Wilkinson was jailed in 2008 for life and ordered to serve at least 11 years.

But dismissing his appeal, and other gun crime cases, Lord Judge said: "The gravity of gun crime cannot be exaggerated. Guns kill and maim, terrorise and intimidate. That is why criminals want them, that is why they use them and that is why they organise their importation and manufacture, supply and distribution.

"Sentencing courts must address the fact that too many lethal weapons are too readily available. Too many are carried, too many are used, always with devastating effect on individual victims and with insidious corrosive impact on the wellbeing of the local community."

Issuing the new sentencing guidelines, Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Butterfield and Mr Justice Flaux, said the possession of firearms was a serious enough offence to justify a lengthy sentence, even if the defendant had argued at trial that there were no aggravating factors.

'Utmost gravity'

Wilkinson had argued that his sentence was excessive because he could not be blamed for any subsequent crimes carried out with the weapons.

But Lord Judge said: "In our judgment the judge [at Wilkinson's trial] was not merely entitled, but fully justified in treating this offence as one of the utmost gravity.

"Those involved in the manufacture of these guns, including the appellant himself, simply cannot wash their hands of the consequences and the sentence on him should reflect those consequences."

Four of the other cases dealt with by the judges involved a massive gun-running operation based in northern England.

'Assassins' armoury'

Madasser Ali, 31, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, Kaleem Akhtar, 31, from Chorlton, Manchester, Paul Wilson, 38, from Liverpool, and Asaid Salim, 28, from Trafford, Greater Manchester, had all challenged lengthy sentences for their roles in importing Russian weapons and selling them on to criminal contacts.

The appeal court judges said prosecutors in the case had been wholly justified to describe the weapons imported by the men as an "assassins' armoury".

"We respectfully suggest that the offence of importing firearms, or being in possession of firearms with intent to supply them, whether manufactured by someone else or not, is not less criminally reprehensible than the importation of drugs or possession of drugs with intent to supply them," said Lord Judge.

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