40,000 handguns still in private hands as deadline for handover arrives

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Around 40,000 handguns have still not been handed in to police - just 48 hours before this week's final deadline for surrendering the weapons, it was estimated last night.

And the Home Office issued a warning that shooting enthusiasts could miss out on compensation payouts and risk prosecution and a possible jail sentence if they fail to comply with the legislation banning their ownership.

From midnight tomorrow, it will be an offence to possess a handgun over .22 calibre and punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Home Office figures showed that by the end of last month only about a third of the estimated 160,000 legally held weapons had been handed in, but the pace is believed to have picked up in the last seven days.

However, police are still bracing themselves for an eleventh hour rush by shooters to give up their handguns under the Firearms Act.

The Sportsman's Association estimated that 75 per cent of handguns had already been handed in and urged its 43,000 members to comply with the new laws.

Mike Yardley, a spokesman, said: "There are still some people who are holding back but by Tuesday night, 99.5 per cent of handguns will have been handed over."

The Home Office last night warned those who waited until after tomorrow that they would be breaking the law, and potentially liable to prosecution. They would not get compensation of either a flat rate of pounds 150 for each handgun or up to pounds 775 through an independent valuation for more expensive weapons.

However, a police source said yesterday that officers were unlikely to act immediately if firearms were not handed in.