Austerity again compounding the problem – twelve, coming up thirteen, years of Tory misrule – Owl
The police department that returned a shotgun licence to a man who carried out a mass shooting did not have enough staff, an inquest has heard.
Jake Davison had his licence revoked in 2020 but police returned it in 2021.
Davison, 22, killed his mother Maxine, 51, and then shot dead four others in Plymouth.
Three-year-old Sophie Martyn, her father, Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66, all died on the evening of 12 August 2021.
Thursday was the third day of inquests being held into their deaths.
A senior police officer told the hearing there had been a backlog of licence applications when Davison first applied in 2017.
Ch Supt Roy Linden, from Devon and Cornwall Police, was questioned about the number of applications for firearms or shotgun licences.
He said in 2017 there were about 3,000 applications per year and the force had the highest number of holders of certificates for firearms or shotguns in the UK.
The counsel to the inquest, Bridget Dolan KC, who is asking questions on behalf of the coroner, said: “Were there sufficient staff to deal with 3,000 applications?”
Ch Supt Linden replied: “The simple answer is no.”
He said there was a backlog of applications within Devon and Cornwall Police, but the force was not unique in the country.
Ch Supt Linden added the problem had only got worse over time.
He told the inquest: “It’s still the condition today, I think they have probably increased.”
Before he gave evidence Ch Supt Linden addressed the families of the victims.
He said the force “recognises the trauma that has been caused by this incident”.
He added: “It’s our intention that this tragic incident will serve to drive improvements in firearms licensing both in Devon and Cornwall and nationally.”
The inquest hearing at Exeter Racecourse continues.
I was somewhat surprised to see that the law on firearms is still the Firearms 1968 Act albeit as amended.
I used to work to that Act when I was a Firearms Certificate Inspector up country. However, I have long since retired and though I was aware that changes had been made, I have never really followed them that closely.
Having looked very briefly at the Act as it now stands, I suspect some of the old problems with it still exist. Fundamentally the Act used pretty much said that certificates should be granted if there was no good reason not to issue i.e. the onus was on the police to show why not rather than the applicant show why. Finding those reasons took time and resources- sparse commodities since May slashed police numbers but even way before then Firearms Certificate Depts were understaffed.
Any appeal against refusal would, in the past, involve the chief officer (Chief Constable) going to court to explain why he or she felt it was not safe to issue a certificate. Chief officers never liked going to court so, unless it was a really strong objection, it may get dropped. I think the Act may have changed and powers can be devolved to less senior officers – though I cannot recall any reporting of such appeal hearings. I have heard of other forces not having enough experienced beat officers to do random checks on FAC holders – something I considered an essential tool in checking that FAC holders reasons were valid and that security restrictions were being observed
Doctors are more involved now but let’s be realistic, is it more theoretical than reality? What doctors know their patients well enough to make a judgement, and which amongst them are happy making such a decision? They would be crucified if they made the wrong recommendation so some won’t do it? That situation needs looking at.
Some may remember the Hungerford massacre where a Michael Ryan killed 16 people and then shot himself. Though I was not the officer approving his grant of a FAC, for colleagues on the scene, I did access his record at the time of the shootings and I do know that he held his weapons lawfully within the terms of the Act as it applied at that time. Changes in the law followed-but were they sufficient?
I guess what I am saying is that the police can only work with the tools they have – and aside from staff resources, the relative law, satisfactory or not, is a massive factor. I would not be surprised to see a coroner making recommendations for changes to the Act.