A former loyalist paramilitary was jailed for two and a half years today for having a cache of guns and ammunition, despite a plea from First Minister Peter Robinson to "show leniency".

Mr Robinson was one of a number of DUP politicians who wrote letters to Belfast Court urging the judge not to jail 74-year-old Samuel Tweed, who had been on the run from police for more than 40 years.

Tweed, of Mark Street, Newtownards, was told by Judge Philip Babington: "These were, and are, serious offences, albeit you were younger but that does not diminish the seriousness of the offence in any way at all.

"I am satisfied that you have lived a lawful and law abiding life over the last 40 years.

"However, that does mean that the offences are any less serious, far from it."

Tweed had pleaded guilty to possession of a haul of revolvers and pistols along with 2,500 rounds of ammunition, and escaping lawful custody.

Prosecution barrister David McDowell earlier told the court that on 19 April 1974, police tried to stop a Ford Cortina being driven by Tweed, then aged-32, in east Belfast, but he left the vehicle and made off on foot.

The court heard that a police officer caught him and grabbed his coat but Tweed removed the coat and made off for a second time.

During a subsequent search of the car he had been driving, police located a Walther pistol under the back seat.

Two days later, the court was told, RUC officers and members of the Royal Military Police went to a house at Jocelyn Avenue in east Belfast to carry out a further search.

The prosecution lawyer said that Tweed answered the door and was arrested.

During a search of the house, security force members found a "cache of firearms" and ammunition.

They found six .45 calibre revolvers; two .22 calibre Star pistols; two .22 calibre pistols; a .22 calibre Browning pistol; a .22 calibre revolver, a .25 calibre Mauser pistol; a .38 Webley revolver; two .38 calibre revolvers; a .32 calibre pistol; a 9mm Beretta pistol; a 12 bore sawn-off shotgun; a 9mm magazine; a .22 calibre magazine and a quantity of assorted ammunition.

At interview, Tweed told police at the time of the seizure: "I accept responsibility for them."

The following month on 7 May 1974, Tweed was present during a remand hearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court when proceedings were disrupted as he stood in the dock.

A group of teenagers shouted "there's a bomb in here".

During the upheaval, Tweed left the dock and escaped from the court.

He was arrested in 2012 after his lawyers had approached police and asked if there was anything outstanding against him, only to be told he was not wanted on any warrants.

Tweed was sentenced to nine months for escaping lawful custody, which will run concurrent to the firearms sentence.

In his letter, Mr Robinson said: "I am writing this letter as a matter of urgency in the sentence of Mr Samuel Tweed''.

He wrote that Tweed had now "shown remorse for his actions'' and "has since lived a law abiding life''.

He added that in the context of the early release scheme he was "urging leniency in this particular and unusual case''.