Transgender woman spared jail for having firearm for her own protection
A transgender woman who was living a life of constant fear has been sparedÂ jailÂ for having a firearm for protection.
Katrina Harte faced a mandatory five year jail term for having a stun gun, disguised as a torch, which she said she would have used "if she needed to".
But the 53-year-old kept her freedom after a court heard she was living with the belief that she was under constant threat and had been the target of abuse and even violence.
The illegal weapon, which was in full working order and emitted blue sparks, was found, along with a CS canister spray, during a police search at Harte's North Tyneside home last November, after she confessed to a support worker that she had them.
Prosecutor Emma Dowling told Newcastle Crown Court: "She explained to police in her interview she had perceived herself to be at physical risk, had been receiving abuse.
"She told them she had been assaulted two weeks before the search. However, she accepted she bought the firearm four weeks before the search, in Turkey."
Harte, of Morwick Road, North Shields, who was visibly shaken and upset as she sat in the court dock, pleaded guilty to possessing a disguised firearm and possession of a CS gas canister, which may have been purchased over the internet.
Miss Dowling told the court the disguised firearm was non-lethal, but if fired at someone with a history of illness could have "serious consequences".
Miss Dowling said possession of the item results in a mandatory five year jail term, unless the court finds "exceptional circumstances" with regards to the offence or the offender.
The court heard Harte has a troubled background and that some of the threats she believed she faced may have been "perceived" rather than real.
As a result of her fear, she has had cameras installed around her home and is supported by professionals, including the police, in the community.
Mr recorder Mark McKone said there were no exceptional circumstances in relation to the offence and that parliament aims to "deter people carrying these items for protection".
But the judge said Harte's personal background, which involved gender re-assignment six years ago, contains "truly traumatic events" with mental health and anxiety issues.
He told her: "Your overall personal circumstances are truly exceptional, both in the literal sense and sufficient to avoid me imposing the minimum five year sentence.
"It would be unjust to impose give years imprisonment in your case.
"It would be unjust for you to serve a sentence at this stage.
"There is no evidence you took it out of the house or used it.
"On your own confession to the probation service you suggest you had it in case you needed it for your own protection."
Harte was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, with rehabilitation requirements.
Yvonne Taylor, defending, said Harte "bitterly regrets" her decision to buy the weapons and leads a very troubled existence.