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Police warn “ignorance is no defence" as blank-firing pistol importer jailed

A man who imported blank-firing pistols from abroad – and converted some into lethal guns in his garden shed – has been jailed as West Midlands Police warns “ignorance is no defence".

Robert Bartell bought firearms, including self-loading pistols manufactured in Turkey and Italy, from a Spanish website and test-fired them in his back garden.

One of the blank-firing pistols we seized from Robert Bartell
One of the blank-firing pistols we seized from Robert Bartell

We attended his Cambridge Street, Walsall home on 28 November after police intelligence suggested he was importing blank-firers.

They can be sold legally on the Continent but are illegal to sell and possess in the UK. 

A search of the property revealed six handguns, including some which he’d converted to fire live rounds in his shed workshop using a table drill and disc cutter, plus 23 adapted 9mm blank rounds retro-fitted with ball bearings or lead shots.

Bartell converted the blank-firers in his shed
Bartell converted the blank-firers in his shed

Officers also found lengths of steel tubing, a 5kg bag of lead shot and damaged books which the 54-year-old had used as targets to test-fire the weapons.

Bartell wasn’t in at the time but hours later surrendered to a police station where he told counter staff: “I’m in a world of trouble over this; I know I’ll be going to prison. I have to own up to what I have done.”

In interview Bartell told detectives he converted the pistols as a personal technical challenge and had no intention to sell viable firearms to criminals.

Robert Bartell jailed for two-and-half-years
Robert Bartell jailed for two-and-half-years

However, he went on to admit four counts of possessing prohibited weapons, two counts of possessing prohibited ammunition, and possessing a sawn-off shotgun which was also found.

And at Wolverhampton Crown Court on Friday (28 Feb) he was jailed for a total of two-and-a-half years.

Investigating officer, Detective Constable Dave Franks, said: “Bartell claimed he had no sinister motivation and there is no evidence to suggest he sold a converted weapon. But that’s no excuse. 

“The converted guns were examined by police ballistics experts who confirmed they were viable and, had they fallen into criminal hands, had the capability to kill. 

“This case should send out a strong message to anyone who believes buying blank-firing pistols is OK or a quick way to make money…it can lead to prison."

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