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Homeless man living on Hampstead Heath jailed for making and burying gun

Dominic Van Allen denied any knowledge of the pipe-gun found buried in the Heath last year

22 August, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

Mr Van Allen was sentenced to five years imprisonment

A HOMELESS man who lived on Hampstead Heath for seven years has been jailed for concealing a firearm in a large underground “camp” he had dug deep beneath thick bushes.

Dominic Van Allen was found guilty despite denying any knowledge of the improvised “pipe gun” discovered just north of the East Heath Road car park last September.

Described as a quiet man “who wanted to be left alone”, the 46-year-old was sentenced to five years at Blackfriars Crown Court on Friday.

Heath rangers had found the network of concrete hides and chemical barrels, prompting a massive response from armed police who sealed off a large section of the Heath for several days. Officers at the time said they suspected a drugs lab had been in operation and there were fears chemicals were being used for terror-related bomb-making equipment.

It is now understood that in fact the chemicals were used by Mr Van Allen to dissolve tree roots and create space for two concrete hides for his personal possessions.

The “hide” found in Mr Van Allen’s encampment

A pipe-gun, a smaller piece of pipe and a bullet were found buried in the ground nearby. Officers and park rangers initially believed the man had been living in the hides because of the size of the concrete-filled underground structures.

DC John Mercer, the lead detective in the case, said he traced Mr Van Allen after finding a “jiffy bag” with his name on it close to where the firearm was buried.

The improvised pipe-gun was found buried in the ground near but not inside the concrete hide

He met with Mr Van Allen at the McDonald’s in Swiss Cottage and spoke to him as a witness in February this year, the court heard.

DC Mercer told the court: “He said he was a homeless male who lived in the Hampstead Heath area and was responsible for the construction of the concrete hides.

“As soon as he disclosed he was responsible for the concrete hides I treated him as a suspect. I informed him of the matter and arrested him. He was very chatty and forthcoming.”

Mr Van Allen, who previously worked as a television set builder, was said to have been homeless for more than 20 years and had lived on the Heath since 2012. He pleaded not guilty to the firearm offence, denying he had either seen or handled the weapon. He had no violence offences on his records.

Forensic scientist Lee Shufflebottom told the court Mr Van Allen’s DNA had been found on the firearm but added that it could have been transferred onto the gun second-hand.

DNA of a second person was also found on the firearm, but Mr Shufflebottom said it was “too weak” to identify whose this was.

Abigail Bauche, Mr Van Allen’s defence lawyer, told the jury: “Mr Van Allen was absolutely happy to come and meet DC John Mercer in McDonald’s. He speaks extremely candidly with the police.

“This is not somebody who has any idea at this stage of what he could be getting into.

“He then gave a full and frank and detailed interview of how the camp was built and how long he had been there. He was flabbergasted to discover his DNA was found on it.”

She added: “He wants to live a quiet and easy life and wants to be left alone. He is a non-violent man with no history at all of violence or criminal behaviour since the age of 19.

“Mr Van Allen doesn’t have an awful lot he needs to explain. What more could he possibly say? ‘It’s not mine and I don’t know how my DNA got on it.’ That one piece of evidence does not prove that Mr Van Allen was in possession of a firearm.”

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