On the 22nd of April, a Cambridgeshire man will stand in court to face a five-year prison term over which he will have no legal defence. In an era where burglars, rapists and even murderers often escape with lesser sentences, the casual reader may assume that he must be a heinous criminal, perhaps with a past record to boot.
Except this man is John Farmer, a Freeman of both Coventry and London; who has degrees in law, economics and history; who served in Bosnia during 30 plus years’ TA service reaching the rank of Captain; was a senior member of an election monitoring team in Southern Sudan amongst other exploits; and is former Mayor of Wisbech, currently married to the acting Town Clerk.
His crime, if it could be described as such, was to possess – for over 30 years incident-free – a broken Second World War pistol which he was given by a friend who served at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. The Daily Mail explains how he is resigned to his fate and how his local authority – of which he is a member – seems unwilling to stand by him:
“‘When he gave it to me, he said not to fire it because it had been deactivated. He said it would blow my hand off, so I never did and I assumed it was pretty safe.
“‘But I suppose I shouldn’t have kept it. It was a sentimental thing – and it’s a beautiful piece of engineering. My life as it was has been pretty much eviscerated.’
“Farmer is now set to meet both Fenland Council leader Alan Melton and his deputy Chris Seaton following his arrest. They are expected to explain that he will be automatically suspended.”
Farmer is hardly the gun-toting gangster which Labour’s famed strict liability on firearms possession was supposed to target, but he is caught up in it anyway and could be destined to a five year stretch which serves no purpose whatsoever in protecting the public.
We have seen prior examples of this draconian punishment being applied wrongly, the inevitable consequence of a law which was poorly drafted. Yet no-one in politics seems to have the stomach to care.
In 2010, a Scottish grandmother was sentenced to five years for possession of a World War II pistol which she would have had trouble causing mayhem with since she owned no accompanying ammunition and had no possibility of purchasing any. Her punishment was later commuted to 240 hours community service – itself an over-reaction to a minor misdemeanour – but only thanks to an ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ clause only applicable to the Scottish legal system due to her having dependent family members.
A more celebrated case was that of Paul Clarke, who handed in a sawn off shotgun in Reigate in 2009.
At the time, his cause was taken up enthusiastically by UKIP, with the personal and much-publicised backing of leader Nigel Farage. This was laudable of the party and entirely in keeping with its claimed libertarian leanings, especially considering Clarke’s defence was variously described by police and judiciary as “implausible” and “lacked credibility”.
Farage was, at the time, quoted quite rightly focussing on the urgent need for the law to be amended.
“The MEP said he would be writing to every Member of Parliament calling for the law to be changed.
“”I am delighted at this outbreak of common sense,” Mr Farage said as Clarke walked free.
“”No purpose would have been served in this man spending five years in prison.””
No purpose would be served by Farmer spending five years in jail either, but so far, everyone is silent on this one. When I gently enquired if UKIP would support Farmer, the response was that they believe he knew the gun was not deactivated.
Since Farmer is a former Conservative Mayor, and UKIP might be eyeing up success in a by-election seat where their party is strong, politics is perhaps playing an understandable but depressing part.
However, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite for defending Farmer from his own party either. There has been no sign of any campaign from the Conservatives to save one of their party’s longstanding local servants. Nothing has been published anywhere on Conservative media about his plight and my enquiries as to their intentions promised much but resulted in not a single reply.
It appears that John Farmer has been cut off from polite political society not for the victimless crime of possessing a war trophy which has never caused a crime – nor was ever realistically likely to even if it was a working model – but because it is not politically expedient.
From this, we can only assume that all four major parties – including one which has been outspoken in messaging MPs to urgently rethink the law – have now decided that a blunt arbitrary five year sentence imposed by Labour, irrespective of vastly differing circumstances, is perfectly acceptable.
It is not. Bad law is bad law, and as Thomas Jefferson once said: “if a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so”.
UKIP and Conservatives should not only be making loud noises for Farmer to be acquitted, but should also be organising support during his trial in April while petitioning parliament to scrap a mandatory sentence which is unfit for civilised society.
It casts shame on both their organisations if they don’t.
Martin Cullip is a columnist for the Free Society and Spiked.