COUNTY NEWS: Father jailed after water pistol puts schools in lock down

A father who impersonated a police officer with his son's water pistol and caused two schools to be locked down has been jailed.

Heene CE Primary School was one of two schools put in lock down. Picture: Eddie Mitchell SUS-170505-082633001
Heene CE Primary School was one of two schools put in lock down. Picture: Eddie Mitchell SUS-170505-082633001

Richard Gray, 36, was jailed today for a total of eight weeks for possessing an imitation firearm and a knife in a public place.

Appearing in handcuffs at Crawley Magistrates’ Court for sentencing, Gray expressed his surprise to magistrates when he was told he would also have to pay a fine.

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The court heard how two Worthing schools were placed on alert on May 4, after police received a report of a man with a firearm near Victoria Park just after 2.15pm.

Richard Gray pretended to be a police officer in a Victoria Park toilet. Picture: Sussex Police

Parents and children were not allowed in or out of Heene and St Mary’s primary schools for an hour while armed police swept the area.

Gray, who the court heard was of no fixed abode but who police had previously described as being from Broadwater, Worthing, was arrested at 9.10pm that evening and was later charged with the two offences. He pleaded guilty when he appeared for trial earlier this month.

Melanie Wotton, prosecuting, described how a man using the public toilet in Victoria Park that day had been disturbed by Gray, who entered the toilets with another man.

She said: “Mr Gray knocked on the cubicle door indicating that he was a police officer and that he needed to come out of the cubicle.”

She told the court the man came out and saw Gray, who opened a green bag and said: “Here’s my ID.”

She added the man ‘saw in that bag what he described as a black handgun [and] left the toilet extremely concerned’.

According to the prosecutor, Gray was arrested that night after a woman told police he had also shown her the gun in the green bag.

She told the court: “He was becoming increasingly aggressive towards her. She noticed that and asked him if he had seen the news.

“Mr Gray then became paranoid, asking what she knew and subsequently left her property.”

The court heard police arrested Gray and found what turned out to be a black water pistol and a lockable Stanley knife.

Finishing her statement, the prosecutor told magistrates Gray had caused ‘significant fear to two people’, ‘considerable disruption’ and a ‘significant cost to the public purse’.

Chris Chatterton, defending, accepted that Gray going to prison was ‘inevitable’ but said he ‘did not intend to cause the distress that he did’.

Mr Chatterton said Gray thought the man in the cubicle had been using drugs and his ‘sole intention’ was to ‘startle’ him.

He told magistrates the water pistol was one of several toys he had in his bag which belonged to his son.

On the subject of the knife, Mr Chatterton said: “It was not something he was carrying on a permanent basis. It was not used to cause fear. It was not brandished. It remained in the bag throughout.”

He added that Gray, who the court heard was a former class-A drug user, ‘hopes to move forward and lead a more industrious life from now on’.

Sentencing Gray, chairman of the bench Keith Bushby said: “These matters are so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate.”

Mr Bushby said he took into account Gray’s guilty plea and time already served in custody, sentencing him to eight weeks in prison for the imitation firearm and six weeks for the knife, to be served concurrently.

When told he would also have to pay £675 costs and a £115 victim surcharge, Gray exclaimed: “What are they for?”

Mr Bushby replied: “The public purse does not need to pay for your mistakes.”

Gray was also given a restraining order and told not to enter Stoke Abbott Road in Worthing on his release.