Former school caretaker jailed for owning sawn-off shotgun

Robert Mitchell.

Robert Mitchell. - Credit: Police

A former school caretaker has been jailed after he kept an illegally held sawn-off shotgun to protect a cannabis plantation in his garage.

Robert Mitchell had the potentially lethal weapon and two shotgun cartridges in a filing cabinet in the same outbuilding he was growing 40 cannabis plants.

The building had metal doors at the front and a side door with a reinforced metal frame and was covered by a CCTV system which Mitchell claimed was to deter intruders.

He claimed to have found the sawn-off and another shotgun in a field after chasing off suspected poachers about three years ago.

He did not report it to the police and kept it apart from his seven other legally held firearms which were kept in a locked cabinet at his home in Westleigh, near Bideford.


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He said he was growing the cannabis for his own use and intended to turn it into oil which he could put in has tea to help him sleep.

Mitchell, aged 61, was working as a caretaker at a school in North Devon until police found the drugs and firearms in October last year.

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He was jailed for five years under Britain’s strict firearms laws which impose a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a sawn-off shotgun.

Judge Peter Johnson imposed the minimum term despite learning that Mitchell’s father had very recently passed away, leaving him as a sole carer for his seriously ill mother.

Mitchell, now of Brennacott Road, Bideford, admitted possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of a firearm without a certificate and was jailed for five years.

The judge told him: “You knew this sawn-off shotgun worked and the inevitable conclusion is that you had it there to protect the cannabis cultivation.

“It was a weapon readily to hand, whether to simply defend the cannabis or in the relation to a grievance you had with neighbours or others.

“I reject your account of how it came into your possession, which bore all the hallmarks of a fabrication. It seems it was deliberately kept from any inspection by a firearms officer.

“It would be remarkable if you had found it as you say you did that you did not call telephone the police.”

Tom Bradnock, prosecuting, said the sawn-off was found in an unlocked cupboard in the detached garage when Mitchell was caught by police growing 40 cannabis plants in October last year.

He had four shotguns and three rifles which were all held lawfully and were kept in a locked cabinet in a small gunroom at his home in Westleigh.

He was cautioned by police for production of cannabis.

Mitchell gave evidence to the Judge in which he said he found the gun in a field near his home after seeing two men out shooting at dusk three or four years ago.

He said they fled into woodland when he went out with a high-powered lamp and he found the sawn-off and a vintage shotgun. The sawn-off was loaded with a single cartridge, which he fired to make the weapon safe.

He said he took it home and locked it in a filing cabinet in his garage and put the other gun on top of a cupboard. He planned to smash them up with a sledge hammer but never got around to it.

He said he did not report it to the police because he thought they were useless when he reported a burglary in 2004.

Hollie Gilbery, defending, said Mitchell gave up his job as a caretaker at a local school so he could look after his elderly and sick parents.

His father passed away and Mitchell fears that his mother’s condition will deteriorate to such an extent if he is not there to look after her that she will not recognise him when he comes out of prison.

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