ROWENA Aglio, of Wallsend, was just trying to order props for her sons who were involved in theatre but wound up with two counts of importing illegal firearms on her record.
Mrs Aglio believes she is an innocent victim of poor legislation covering the sale and ownership of imitation or toy firearms.
The Newcastle Herald has reported this week how imitation guns – that look remarkably real – are readily available for purchase in Hunter stores.
STORY: Minister calls for ban on realistic toy guns
STORY: Police replica gun fears
STORY: Replica gun used in armed hold-up
Police have complained that a legal loophole allowing the guns to be sold as “toys” makes it too easy for criminals to buy them and use them in hold-ups.
The law does, however, leave room for the prosecution of buyers, and it trapped Mrs Aglio.
STORY: Replica guns toy with the rules
“The boys were looking at buying actual replica guns because they were making some short movies. We had looked at places like Go-Lo and Toys-R-Us, but they wanted something more realistic,” Mrs Aglio said.
“They found these guns online. They were called toy, replica guns.”
Mrs Aglio ordered the fake weapons using her credit card and waited for delivery.
Several weeks later, she received a letter from the Customs service explaining that the goods had been seized as illegal firearms.
Understandably, the letter made her nervous but there was no phone number so she decided to wait and see what happened.
The next day, Mrs Aglio received a second, “much more official-looking” letter which stated that Customs had seized a second package with illegal goods.
“The guns were put into two separate packages, so it was recorded as two attempts to import illegal firearms,” Mrs Aglio told the Herald. “They told me I’d be prosecuted if I ‘tried’ it again.”
Mrs Aglio said Customs told her if she committed any further breach, either in her travels or online shopping it would mean a “third strike”, and criminal proceedings.
“When I phoned Customs the woman said they were definitely replica items and were illegal because people could use them in armed hold-ups,” she said.
“I tried to explain that they were only being used as drama props but she said it didn’t matter.
“[She] said I could appeal but that I would lose,” said Mrs Aglio. “It’s left us really quite nervous.”