A tenant farmer who was banned from keeping firearms was found with a high-powered air rifle and boxes of ammunition during two police raids.

Stephen Wills was not allowed to have any sort of gun because he had been jailed for perverting the course of justice by giving a false name when stopped for a driving offence.

He was caught with high velocity .177 rifle ammunition in a police raid on his farm in the Teign Valley in May 2020 and with a loaded air rifle five months later.

The ammunition was for a different kind of weapon and could not have been used in the air rifle, Exeter Crown Court was told.

Wills used the air rifle to control vermin at the smallholding at Bridford and kept the .22 rifle cartridges for others to use if they came to do the same thing.

He was spared an immediate jail sentence after a Judge was told that he was struggling to manage the farm while looking after four small children and had taken a second job to make ends meet.

Wills, aged 33, of Old Quarry, Bridford, admitted three counts of possessing a firearm or ammunition when prohibited and was jailed for six months, suspended for two years and sent on a thinking skills course.

He ordered the confiscation and destruction of all the items and told him: ‘You have commitments and four very young children.’

He also said he was appalled that the air rifle had been found in a hallway at the farmhouse where the children may have access to it, but was told it was normally kept locked in his study.

Miss Felicity Payne, prosecuting, said police searched the farm for the first time on May 1, 2020, after Wills was arrested for a driving offence in Ivybridge. 

Police found one .22 rim fire cartridge in a basket on the desk in his office and boxes containing 384 high velocity cartridges of the same calibre.

A second search on October 6 led to the seizure of a .177 gas powered air rifle with a potentially lethal muzzle velocity. It had a magazine with nine pellets but none were loaded into the chamber.

A telescopic sight, a gas canister, and a manual were also found in the office.

Miss Rachel Smith, defending, said the air rifle was used to control vermin on the farm and normally kept locked in the office. Wills’s wife Laura had been cleaning it at the moment the police arrived and has set it down in the hallway as she went to answer the door.

She said the rest of the ammunition was kept for the use of others who visited the farm to help control pests.

Judge Rose questioned whether the high velocity .22 ammo would be suitable for use against vermin and asked: ‘If it was used on a rat, would it blow it to smithereens?’