An “eccentric inventor” who admitted making his own personal arsenal of weapons uncovered in his east Belfast home was handed a two-year jail term, suspended for three years.
David Cunningham – who is blind in one eye, almost blind in the other and partially deaf – admitted 12 firearms offences, including discharging one of his home-made guns into the sea at Crawfordsburn, and firing another into the air.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the 64-year old former mechanic had watched “how-to” internet videos before making his own firearms, including nine “zip guns” and an improvised shotgun – using everyday household items such as torches, files, and an iPhone box.
Police also found a modified revolver and four stun guns, all but one of which was capable of being used.
A previous hearing had been told that some of the material used in construction had been retrieved from skips.
Judge Geoffery Miller QC told Cunningham while the custody threshold was passed, taking everything into account and the “highly unusual circumstances” the interests of justice did not require the term should be immediate and it could be suspended.
Judge Miller said it was accepted that Cunningham’s “motives were benign” and any risk of use of the weaponry was limited, and the former engineer was considered a low likelihood of re-offending, and posed no danger to the public.
Earlier the judge said the possession of any weapons was no doubt a serious offence, and while having a personal arsenal remained a matter of public concern, it was accepted “there is no sinister overtones in this case”.
Cunningham, added Judge Miller, had no paramilitary or terrorist connections, and there was little risk of the weapons falling into the hands of hardened criminals.
His motivation seemed to have stemmed from his curiosity.
Previously the court had heard that when his Castlereagh Parade home was searched on May 11 last year, police located a number of weapons and ammunition, some of which were found under floorboards.
Crown barrister Robin Steer said that when police called at Cunningham’s home, he was wearing a zip gun around his neck on a piece of cord, and had three bullets in his trouser pocket, but told officers: “I wasn’t going to do anyone any harm.
“I am not a terrorist or anything like that.”
Cunningham subsequently pleaded guilty to 12 offences, including multiple charges of possessing firearms and ammunition in suspicious circumstances.
Mr Steer also said that whilst it was accepted Cunningham did not pose a risk to the public, there was a “significant risk” had his property been unsecured that the items could have fallen into the hands of a third party.
He branded Cunningham as an “eccentric inventor” with “no criminal intentions”.
Defence barrister Denis Boyd described Cunningham as a loner.
He said the defendant now realised what he did was “very, very foolish”.
Mr Boyd said Cunningham never had anything sinister in mind, nor had he ever used any of these items to hurt anyone, and that he never passed on anything he made.