Northern Ireland news

West Belfast man wins appeal against conviction for having an imitation firearm

John Thomas Murphy won his appeal against a conviction for having an imitation firearm

A WEST Belfast man has won his appeal against a conviction for having an imitation firearm discovered in his home with more than 500 rounds of ammunition.

Senior judges ruled today that a finding John Thomas Murphy was in possession of the replica weapon with intent to cause fear of violence could not be sustained.

But they upheld separate verdicts that the 33-year-old had the ammunition in suspicious circumstances and without a relevant licence.

Murphy is serving a three and a half year sentence for the discoveries made during a search at his Beechmount Close home in June 2017.

Police located the imitation firearm and assorted bullets inside two bags in a bedroom wardrobe.

Latex gloves and a black knuckle-duster were also found.

Murphy denied a total of four charges during a non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court last year where he declined to give evidence.

Prosecutors argued Murphy could be forensically linked to some of the items, with his fingerprint found on a bag, and his DNA on a zip and gloves.

The trial judge found him guilty on three counts: possession of an imitation firearm with intent, having the ammunition in suspicious circumstances, and without a certificate.

However, the defendant was acquitted on the further charge of possession ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Last November Murphy was ordered to serve 21 months in prison and a further 21 months on licence.

As part of a challenge to the verdict, defence lawyers told the Court of Appeal there was insufficient evidence to warrant a finding that he intended to cause a fear of violence with the imitation firearm.

His conviction on that count was inconsistent with the acquittal for having the ammunition with intent to endanger life, they contended.

Backing that part of the appeal, Lord Justice McCloskey said the prosecution had to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Murphy was in possession of the imitation firearm with specific intent.

"It follows that the conviction in respect of (that) count cannot be sustained," he held.

However, the judge also confirmed: "The court harbours no reservations about the safety of the remaining two convictions of the appellant, namely possession of ammunition

without a certificate and possession of ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

"Thus, the appeal succeeds to the limited extent indicated."

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