A FORMER South Lakeland soldier has been given a suspended prison sentence for taking machine gun ammunition home with him after a training exercise in Wales.
Christopher Walker, 24, was charged after 59 rounds of full metal jacket ammunition and a military smoke grenade were found in the bedroom of his home in Kent Close, Bowston, near Burneside.
At Carlisle Crown Court Walker, who served in the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment until he was released from the Army last week, pleaded guilty to illegally possessing the equipment.
Prosecuting barrister Tim Evans told the court that Walker – who won awards for being best recruit and best shot in his early Army career – had been on a week-long exercise in the Brecon Beacons in 2011 but had failed to use all the ammunition he had been provided with.
Instead of handing it back at the end of manoeuvres as he should have done, he kept it to avoid having to complete the necessary paperwork, he said.
And instead of just leaving it in an “amnesty bin” – in which soldiers can leave unused ammunition anonymously – he put it in his kitbag.
He only found the bullets at the bottom of his bag when he unpacked it to do his washing when he got home, he said.
He kept the bullets "on open display" in his bedroom, where they became "a bit of a talking point", Mr Evans said.
He knew he should have handed them back to the Army but thought he would get into trouble if he did.
They were found only when police searched his home after he was arrested for possessing a small amount of amphetamine while trying to get into a Kendal nightclub in August last year.
In mitigation defence barrister Kim Whittlestone said Walker, who saw active service on the frontline in Afghanistan, had a glowing career in the Army until he developed tinnitus, an ear complaint, because of the noise of firing his gun.
He was told that from then on he would only be fit for guard duty or driving vehicles – not the sort of activities he had joined the Army for, she said.
“He found it very difficult to cope with the realisation that he was not going to be sent to the front line again, which was one of the reasons he had become a soldier in the first place,” she said.
With his personal life going wrong at the same time, she said, he made “a number of foolish decisions” – including going absent without leave for six months, which eventually earned him more than four months in a military prison.
Walker, who now works as a scaffolder, was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work.
Judge Barbara Forrester told him that though the ammunition would not have harmed anybody while it was in his bedroom, it could have done if someone had stolen it and it had fallen into the wrong hands.
“That is the seriousness of this offence,” she said.