A JUDGE has told a Northumberland hunt master to consider himself “fortunate” after he was cleared of a firearms offence.
Frank Houghton-Brown, joint master of the Tynedale Hunt, found himself in trouble with police during a cross-country vermin-shooting expedition.
Officers found the weapon when they broke into his car in York, following a call from a concerned passer-by who spotted his pet Labrador locked in the Subaru Forester vehicle on a warm day.
Mr Houghton-Brown, of Nesbitt Hill Head, Stamfordham, left his car to attend a hearing at the nearby county court on April 29 last year, leaving his dog in the caged rear of the vehicle and the rifle on the back seat under layers of clothes.
The gun’s safety catch was on but there was a round of ammunition in the weapon breech.
A police officer aided by an animal health officer, broke into the car and noticed one of the windows was open to provide ventilation. They also spotted the lethal firearm.
Mr Houghton-Brown was charged with breaching his firearms certificate.
The 45-year-old, who campaigned against the former Government’s controversial hunting ban, claimed he took the rifle with him while out rabbit-shooting at the country homes of friends and family. He said he had been asked to do some pest control for friends near York, shooting crows and grey squirrels on their land.
Mr Houghton-Brown then said he had intended to travel with the weapon and ammunition to his parents’ home in Banbury, where pest control was also needed.
York Magistrates cleared him of the offence in November last year, claiming he had taken “reasonable” precautions to safeguard the weapon.
But the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) challenged York magistrates’ decision in London’s High Court.
CPS barrister Jerome Silva said the verdict sent out the wrong message on firearms safety.
He told the court that Mr Houghton- Brown could have neutralised the weapon, which could have been stolen, by removing its bolt before leaving the car.
But Mr Justice Silber said the prosecution had failed to prove Mr Houghton-Brown did not take reasonable precautions to ensure safe custody of the firearm and ammunition.
Dismissing the case, he said: “I must stress there are many others who might have reached a different conclusion and convicted Mr Houghton-Brown.
“Many people would regard him as having been fortunate.”