Man In Armed Standoff Is Jailed
A depressed man who was involved in a six-hour armed stand-off with police officers outside his home was jailed for six years today.
Paul Allwright, 63, provoked firearms officers into opening fire on him by brandishing a single-barrelled shotgun in North Way, Seaford, East Sussex.
Lewes Crown Court heard he was hit three times by live rounds - twice in the chest and once in the leg - as well as by several baton rounds in the early hours of September 16 last year but survived.
Systemic failings by Sussex Police in its firearms licensing procedures allowed Allwright to retain his weapon against medical advice, the court was told.
Prosecutor Ryan Richter said that Allwright, who had held a shotgun licence issued by Sussex Police since 2007, was due to have it renewed four months earlier in May last year.
Although Allwright had submitted his documents and payment for the licence, a backlog of around 1,700 applications at Sussex Police meant his was not looked at until August.
When it was eventually examined, Allwright's disclosure on the form that he had depression prompted an approach to his GP who felt he was unsuitable to hold a firearms licence.
Despite selling two of his guns, Allwright still held one at the time he became involved in the stand-off with police last September.
Mr Richter said the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found no criminal or disciplinary matters relating to officers' actions on the night.
But independent defence expert Gary Gracey said in a report: "A series of serious systemic failings in the firearms and licensing procedures by Sussex Police allowed Mr Allwright to retain his weapon against medical advice.''
Mr Richter said that on 7.10pm on September 15 an officer was dispatched to the Allwright's bungalow to reports that Allwright had a gun and was threatening to shoot his dog and wife, Julie, who fled to a neighbour.
When it emerged during the emergency call that Allwright had threatened to shoot a policeman and was in the process of having his firearms licence renewed, armed officers were dispatched to his property.
Further resources, including a police helicopter, further firearms units and specially-trained negotiators, were deployed as Allwright paced around with his gun, pointing it at officers who surrounded his home.
Mr Richter said Allwright was slurring his speech, in a "highly charged and emotional'' state and moved around the garden with his shotgun in an "on-aim'' position at times.
Negotiators attempted to engage with Allwright but he resisted their attempts, telling them he intended to commit suicide "or with a bit of luck you guys will do it for me''.
With Allwright ignoring requests to drop his weapon and with officers fearing for their safety, a live round and a baton round was fired by officers but neither had a significant effect.
Further baton rounds and two more live rounds were discharged by officers, resulting in Allwright returning fire in what was believed to have been an accidental "reflex'' action.
Allwright, who smelt of alcohol and had gunshot wounds on his body, was left lying in his hallway with a shotgun at his feet and a gun-belt with a further 10 cartridges by his side.
He was admitted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and following his recovery four weeks later he was fit enough to be arrested but made no comment in interview.
Allwright, who had no previous convictions, was charged with attempted murder and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, which he later pleaded not guilty to.
But today, ahead of a trial scheduled for April 10, he pleaded guilty to the firearm charge while prosecutors decided not to proceed with the attempted murder allegation.
Mr Richter said the IPCC had "raised concern'' about how Sussex Police's firearms licensing department was operating at the time and the delay in considering Allwright's application.
A "learning report'' is due to be released relating to those issues, he said. Mr Richter said: "In any event there has been significant change as to how the licensing department works.
"The backlog at the time was running at around 1,700 cases. Extra officers and staff have been assigned and that has been reduced to somewhere in the region of 700 cases.''
Firearms licensing applications which raise medical concerns are now given priority rather than dealt with in the normal course of work, he added.
Mr Richter went on: "The weapon was discharged in a public street but it was at night and was being contained by officers so the risk was to them rather than members of the public.''
There was no physical injury to the officers and no "significant trauma'' was caused.
Judge Mr Justice Nicol said Allwright will serve half his six-year sentence behind bars and the remainder on licence.
The judge told him: "On several occasions over some six hours, you used your weapon to threaten first your wife and then numerous police officers.
"It's integral to your plea of guilty that your intention was to endanger life.''
He added: "These events were triggered in part by your depression, your physical ailments and what appeared to be the imminent breakdown of your marriage.''
Mr Justice Nicol said he accepted that the shotgun was lawful and that the prosecution accepted that his firing of it could have been accidental.