AN AUTOGRAPH dealer bought pepper sprays and Tasers off the internet in a bid to protect himself from rogue collectors.

Richard Bristow bought the items from a US-based website not realising they were illegal. When one of the weapons, a stun gun, failed to arrive the 59-year-old was even given a refund.

The reason it hadn’t been posted through his letterbox was because it had been seized by Border Control officers in September 2018.

And nine months later police knocked at the door with a warrant to search his Taw Hill home. Astonished Bristow went around the house pointing out the weapons.

He kept one of the pepper sprays by his bed and the Taser, a £1 weapon designed to look like a torch, was still in its packaging and left in a desk drawer. Police found another out-of-date pepper spray he had bought on a trip to Germany in the 1990s and intended for his then girlfriend to use in self-defence.

Appearing before Swindon Crown Court, Bristow, of Prospero Way, pleaded guilty to five counts of possession of a weapon capable of the discharge of a noxious liquid or electrical incapacitation.

Defending, Ray Tully said his client had bought the items after a spate of burglaries in the area and also after threats were made against him and a close associate in the autograph-dealing world.

That associate, who was not named in court, was an expert witness in the trial of dealers involved in an alleged £1m fraud and resulted in him being threatened. Mr Tully said of his client: “He too had been caught up in some of the flak that was flying around. It caused him to have concerns about his own safety.”

A computer whizz-turned-autograph dealer, Bristow had bought the weapons while idly browsing the internet.

“He had no inkling the items he was purchasing were illegal. There was nothing to indicate on the website that that even might be so," Mr Tully said.

“No warnings thrown up. No text to indicate that one should check or take care or items when one fills a basket on such a website and you indicate where they’re about to be sent to that you ought to check within your own jurisdiction.”

The total cost of the order was less than £30 and the Taser was just £1 – a special offer marketed as one might sell discount chocolate at the tills of a supermarket.

Mr Tully described it as a “sort of impulse purchase that was thrown in at the last minute”.

His client was of previous good character and was remorseful . He was so honest that after his dad died, leaving behind a sizeable collection of knives and decommissioned antique guns, Bristow had taken the stash to the police station.

Bristow was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months. He must complete 150 hours of unpaid work and pay costs of £500.

Judge Jason Taylor QC said: “It’s quite clear to me that you’ve had a rude awakening how seriously these items are viewed and you’ve learned the hard way these are not just boys’ toys.”

Possession of an offensive weapon like pepper spray or a Taser is an offence taken seriously by the courts.

According to Sentencing Council guidance, the penalty for those convicted can range from a conditional discharge to a three year prison sentence.