Dapper former office worker and vintage car fanatic John Smith does not really have the look of a hardened criminal.
Yet after leaving his green 1954 Wolseley Six Eighty unattended, armed police surrounded the vintage car when a passer-by reported the butt of a machine gun sticking out from underneath a cover on the back seat.
Despite his protestations that it was only a prop for a battle re-enactment society, he was hauled off to a police station and eventually charged with possessing an imitation firearm in a public place.
After five costly court appearances, the 1940s enthusiast finally received justice and the return of his beloved deactivated Steyre MP34 German machine gun which Judge Michael Murphy said would be “an act of vandalism” to destroy.
He told him at Sheffield Crown Court: “I am quite satisfied that you are not a criminal and this is part of your hobby.”
South Yorkshire Police had requested the forfeiture and destruction of the rare 1934 weapon and two other replica pistols but the judge said: “I don’t want historical artefacts to be destroyed and so I am not going to make an order to destroy these things.”
Sheffield Crown Court heard that Smith, 56, was taking his German Wehrmacht uniform and shirt to be washed and pressed at his mother’s ready for a “living history” display by the Northern World War 11 Association which he was taking part in the next day.
The society specialises in staging large battle re-enactments from the 1940s for the public using a full range of period weapons and vehicles.
Mr Smith had packed the machine-gun and its bayonet, which is valued at £3,000, along with two replica pistols, a Walther PPK and a P38 automatic, in the Wolseley along with his uniforms, a chest full of old medical equipment and some deactivated rounds of ammunition.
In reality the PPK was held together by Sellotape and the P38 only fires blanks.