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Roy Bennett Cannon Man
August 30, 2012, 10:58 am
PENSIONER Roy Bennett was jailed for five years for building a cannon, after police were tipped off following him testing it in a gun range at a quarry.
The 74-year-old constructed the device himself, after being commissioned by his brother, who takes part in American World War II re-enactments across the country.
Roy accepts that he failed to get it properly licenced, and he also owned a motley arsenal of antique and modern weapons – with two rifles dating back to the Indian mutiny in 1857 – some of which also were not properly authorised.
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After finishing his sentence – he readily says “I’d recommend jail to anyone” – Roy has struggled to readjust to life on the outside, partly because his brush with the law resulted in his partner leaving him which also made him homeless, and he lost his job at an animal sanctuary.
Dubbed “cannon man” by HMP Manchesters inmates, his situation illustrates the broad range of cases Greater Manchester Probation Trust has to deal with.
Roy, who lives in Horwich, Bolton, said: “There was a knock on the door April 5th, 2009, and the police had come with guns, it was wall-to-wall with them, and they had dogs. A policeman introduced himself and said ‘I believe you have a cannon’.
“I had black hair before I was jailed, my hair turned grey within days. I was also chained to the floor when transported to Strangeways, like an animal, and I thought that was a bit much. As a farmer Id kept animals in better condition.
“But on the positive side, you can never expect to meet as many condensed personalities as you get inside, you find allsorts from those who dont want to be released through to murderers, millionaires running businesses and drug addicts.”
Roy, a former engineer, had built a 10 bore brass demi cannon and also owned eight unlicenced weapons, including air pistols. He was sentenced to 60 months for possession of firearms at Bolton Crown Court, December 2009, and was released in June, 2012.
He said: “The inmates were no problem. Because of my age people fell over themselves to meet me, and I was nicknamed ‘cannon man – the inmates wanted to hear my story.
“Life is a series of experiences. You can either plan a life in which you get married, have children and become a pensioner, or you can change things every few years; go potholing, handgliding, climbing and carry over the lessons of what you learn to enrich the next period of your life – that way you accumulate a lot of talents.”
During his HMP Manchester induction interview Roy was told because of his age he didnt have to work.
He said: “But I was desperate to work, Ive been active all my life. I ended up working on the sewing machines and I helped computerise them and get them on-line.
“I was then transferred to Wymott, I wasnt allowed to work with tools because they didnt want me to make anything that went ‘bang.
“Then latterly I was at Kirkham. Its the most wonderful place, the trees, open space, plants and herbs are beautiful. I found my vocation there, they have a small farm and I enjoyed working on it.”
Roys engineering prowess earned national media attention while he was at Kirhkam because he built a wheelchair for a disabled cat after the prisons governor responded to a request in the local newspaper.
Following release Roy is being supervised by Bolton probation officer Nadine Roberts. He has found readjusting to civi street “tough”.
Roy added: “I’m old, I’m living on borrowed time. I was born a cripple but I’ve worked all my life, I’ve lived happily with the stigma of being disabled but it’s never stopped me doing things for the benefit of other people’s lives.
“I’ve never been remiss about paying bills, but I now need a bit of release. I’ve found when you go to the authorities and explain the gap in your claims is due to being inside then you get put to the bottom of the pile.”
Roy has a pension and income totalling £180 per month, of which £80 goes on rent.
He said: “Without Mrs Roberts I would have gone under.
“What I admire about Mrs Roberts is if she comes across people who give her waffle she cuts through it and demands answers. They may not always be the answers I want to hear, but when you’ve got answers you can then work on that and progress.
“She has called the Department of Work and Pensions and kicked arse, Im having a hell of battle getting my benefits.
“Its fair to say Ive found readjusting to being outside harder than going to prison. Mrs Roberts understands my position and is a great support.”
Nadine said: “I dont judge offenders, thats for the court to do, but I treat everyone with respect.
“It is fair to say I havent supervised too many people of Roys age, and in his case he does struggle on the telephone and interacting with the agencies has been a challenge for him.
“Some agencies may have been a little slow in processing his claims and life is hard for him at the moment, it is my role to ensure a smooth transition and helping sort finances out can be key. If someone hasnt got money it can make it more likely theyll re-offend.
“All the way through custody prison officers have said he was courteous and quick to help other inmates, he is a considerate and helpful man.”