Criminals who trade in illegal firearms face severe sentences, leading judges warned today as they doubled the number of years to be served by a man caught by police with a loaded revolver.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Solicitor General Edward Garnier that the five-year term imposed in the case of 23-year-old Zephen Rollings was "unduly lenient" - and increased it to 10 years.
Rollings was originally sentenced last year at London's Woolwich Crown Court for possession of a loaded firearm with intent to enable another to endanger life.
Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Nicol, sitting in London, said the consequences of his actions "were potentially lethal".
Rollings was searched by police officers from the Southwark Drugs and Firearms unit outside a flat in Brockley, south London, in July last year.
He was found to have a .357 Magnum calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with a six-shooting, swing out cylinder in full working order.
It was loaded with live ammunition. The bullets were "dum dum" bullets, described as being "particularly dangerous".
After the ruling the Solicitor General welcomed the "strong message" from the court on sentencing in firearms cases.
He had submitted to the court during a recent hearing that "as the supply and movement of dangerous weapons around the country was essential to the violent criminal acts committed with them, the punishment of the facilitators should reflect the gravity of the potential ultimate result of their activity".
The Solicitor General said in a statement today: "In my view the original sentence of five years was unduly lenient and did not properly reflect the seriousness of the crime.
"It was truly shocking that a gun loaded with dum dum bullets, which expand on impact, was being carried in broad daylight in a residential street."
He added: "The facts of this case painted a stark picture. Criminals carrying guns cause untold misery.
"The court clearly recognised the seriousness of this crime and I hope the increased sentence of 10 years sends out a clear message that gun crime will be dealt with severely."
In their ruling, the appeal judges reiterated the observations of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, given in another case, when he said: "Sentencing courts must address the fact that too many lethal weapons are too readily available, too many are carried, too many are used, always with devastating effect on individual victims and with insidious corrosive impact on the well-being of the local community."
Detailing the facts in the case of Rollings, Lady Justice Hallett said: "The weapon was a genuine firearm, loaded and deadly.
"The ammunition was particularly dangerous. There was no lawful use for the gun.
"The offender was not simply a custodian. He intended to supply the loaded gun to a fellow criminal or criminals who required it for their criminal enterprise.
"The offender has not informed the court of the nature of the enterprise and we shall avoid speculation."
She added: "Suffice it to say the consequences were potentially extremely grave for the victim or victims of the offence.
"It is fortuitous that the police stepped in when they did."
Lady Justice Hallett described Rollings as being "no stranger to the courts", adding: "On the positive side, the offender is still relatively young and does not have an established record of committing firearms offences."
Mr Garnier had provided the court with background information to "explain why it was his contention that the courts should treat those who trade in illegal firearms severely, possibly as severely as those who actually use them to commit an offence".
The judge said: "He informed us that there is a limited supply of firearms which are moved around the criminal fraternity in such a way that several crimes may be committed with one gun.
"Those involved in the supply chain of weapons play a pivotal role in keeping violent criminals in business, with all the risks that this entails for the public."
She said: "Given the dangers to the public, the prevalence of gun crime and the need for deterrent and punitive sentencing, to which Lord Judge referred... Mr Garnier submitted the sentencing range for offences of this gravity has increased significantly. We agree."
The judge concluded: "Balancing all the aggravating and mitigating factors of the offence and offender, in our judgment the very least sentence we can impose today is one of 10 years' imprisonment."