LEGALLY held firearms will be seized and destroyed by police if licences are not renewed on time, the PSNI in north Antrim has warned.

There are hundreds of legally held weapons owned by farmers and others in the Ballymoney and Moyle areas and the PSNI are tightening up the situation regarding expired licences.

Up until now many owners of legally held weapons have relied on police to send out licence renewal reminders but some gun owners have used the excuse that they have not received them.

Now police are stressing that officers do not have a statutory duty to send out reminders - although they still will - and that it is up to owners to take the initiative themselves.

It can take several weeks for the re-licensing process to work through and police are warning gun-owners to ensure they get their paperwork in on time.

Sergeant Colin Shaw of Moyle PSNI told the Times: "Don't let your firearms certificate run out or you gun will be seized and if no action is taken it will be destroyed. Up until now people have relied on police but that is no longer the case."

Sergeant Shaw said police would like to remind all firearms holders of their responsibility to ensure their firearms are being held on a valid certificate.

"For a considerable number of years Firearms and Explosives Branch has sent reminders to certificate holders advising them that their certificiate was about to expire and inviting them to apply for a new certificate.

"Unfortunately large numbers of firearms owners have come to rely entirely on receiving the reminder before taking any action.

"On a considerable number of occasions certificate holders claim not to have received the reminders and as a consequence have not applied for a further grant of their certificate and allowed it to expire.

"There is no legal requirement on the PSNI to issue reminders and the responsibility lies with all firearms holders to ensure that they apply in time for a new certificate.

"Failure to apply for a new certificate prior to the expiry of their current certificate means that the person is in illegal possession of their firearms which is a criminal offence and may leave them liable to prosecution.

"It also puts pressure on the administration system and slows the process for other applicants.

"From October 1, 2007, Firearms and Explosives Branch has expected all certificate holders to apply for a further grant of their certificate as soon as possible and at least six weeks before the expiry of their existing certificate.

"If a reminder is not received by the certificate holder at ten weeks in advance of the expiry date on their existing certificate they should then take steps to obtain an application pack from their local PSNI Station or the PSNI website,

"Failure to apply for a further grant before the expiry of the existing certificate will generally be viewed in a negative light and may impact on the decision whether or not a further grant of the certificate will be permitted.

"As a result of recent changes to firearms legislation police will now be required to take possession of any firearm not held on a current firearms certificate and it will remain in police custody until a new certificate is in the possession of the owner.

"It also has to be emphasised that under the recent legislation police will have the power to dispose of a firearm coming into their possession in such circumstances after 21 days if no application for a new certificate is received from the owner," said Sergeant Shaw.

The Firearms Officer for Ballycastle, Bushmills and Cushendall areas, Constable John Knox, told the Times he will be happy to offer advice and assistance to anyone having difficulty in the completion of their applications and he can be contacted by phoning Ballycastle Police Station on 20762312 extension 87213.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Shaw insists that all firearm certificte holders ensure their firearms are securely stored in approved cabinets at all times when not in use.

"Care should also be taken not to advertise the presence of firearms by careless talk or open display of firearms. Lapses in security or breaches of conditions which result in the theft of firearms will normally result in the revocation of the firearms certificate.

"It is also important that firearms buyers bear in mind the differences in legislation when buying firearms or component parts for firearms from dealers in Great Britain and Europe.

"While an advertisement in a shooting magazine or on the internet may state that no firearm certificate is required, the law relating to the purchase, acquisition and possession of firearms in GB is very different to that which prevails in Northern Ireland and the onus lies with the person to ensure they are acting legally.

"Many air guns and possibily some of the more powerful BB guns may, for example, bring a risk of illegal possession in Northern Ireland even though they are advertised in a magazine or online as suitable for ownership without a firearm certificate.

"Members of the public are advised to seek the advice of a firearms dealer or the Police Service Firearms & Explosives Branch if they are unsure of the requirements as the illegal possession of firearms which are required to be held on certificate may lead to prosecution even if they have been bought in ignorance of the law or in good faith.

"Any persons who believe they are in possession of such items obtained in the mistaken belief that a firearm certificate is not required are urged to surrender them to police at their local police station," added Sergeant Shaw.