‘Stupid’ ex-soldier freed over guns and explosives charges

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A former Falklands veteran who “stupidly” collected guns and made blast bombs as a “hobby” has been freed when his two-year jail term was suspended for three years.

Judge Stephen Fowler QC told 52-year-old John Rankin his “actions were born out of sheer stupidity” but that there was “nothing subversive or sinister” or connection to any paramilitaries.

The Belfast Crown Court judge said both the prosecution and defence accept Rankin’s “is an unusual, if not exceptional case”, and that his account to police is “true, accurate and reflective of his culpability”.

Rankin, whose address was given as Maghaberry Prison, pleaded guilty to making explosives under suspicious circumstances and having three prohibited 9mm Zorkai blank firing automatic pistols without the authority of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Judge Fowler said that Rankin had already spent considerable time in prison awaiting trial and to jail him again would bear heavily on him, and also deprive his stepdaughter of her much-needed full-time carer.

An earlier court was told that the gas loading pistols and “crude explosive devices” were uncovered during a search of “military enthusiast” Rankin’s former Co Antrim home on January 24 last year.

Police had been tipped off by the National Crime Agency who had intercepted a parcel of pistols in Birmingham addressed to the former soldier.

Rankin, who served in the Army from 1978 to 1993, admitted buying the guns over the internet intending to mount them in cases and sell them on for profit.