Mass Plymouth shootings – Breathtaking incompetence and failings by police

Breathtaking incompetence and failings by police allowed a gunman to kill five people during a mass shooting in Plymouth, victims’ families have said. (BBC)

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, said the evidence heard at the inquest “provided a clear and independent understanding of missed opportunities”.

Ms Hernandez said: “I am working with the Home Office and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) so that we learn nationally from this tragedy to ensure that nothing like it happens again.”

Victims statement (Extract from full statement published here)

In a statement released by their legal representative, the victims have accused the licensing system at the force of being “a shambles from the top to the bottom”. In addition they said it was “too late for an apology from Devon and Cornwall Police. The time for that has passed” adding that what they do demand is “accountability, ownership and change.”….

They say warning signs were “ignored and a license to kill was granted.” They also say there was “very little evidence” of “regret or remorse in the decisions, actions, omissions or catastrophic mistakes made” by not just the force and its Firearms and Explosives Licencing Unit, but also by “multiple other agencies, care services and individuals.”…..

The families have accused senior police officers who gave evidence at the inquest of “seeking to defend the indefensible” which they found “extremely difficult for us to watch.” ……

Plymouth shooting: Families say warning signs were ignored

By Miles Davis & Johanna Carr

Jake Davison killed his mother and four other people, including a girl aged three, with a shotgun in August 2021.

Families of four of the victims said: “Warning signs were ignored and a licence to kill was granted.”

The inquest jury said there had been a “catastrophic failure” at Devon and Cornwall Police.

At the conclusion of a five-week inquest at Exeter Racecourse jurors said the deaths of the victims were “caused by the fact the perpetrator had a legally-held shotgun”.

All five of the victims were unlawfully killed, the jury found.

Davison killed his mother Maxine, 51, Sophie Martyn, three, her father Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66, in the Keyham area of Plymouth before turning the gun on himself.

Will Kerr, who took over as Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police in December 2022, said: “Steps should have been taken to safeguard our communities and for that failure I am truly sorry.”

Mr Kerr called for changes in national firearms licensing policy.

He said: “I accept Devon and Cornwall Police has failed our communities in regard to Jake Davison, but had there been clearer national guidance, direction and specific legislation concerning firearms licensing – decision-making locally may well have been very different.”

Mr Kerr said the force had invested £4m into the Firearms and Explosives Licensing Unit since the shootings “to ensure more consistent and robust application of current law and guidance”.

The inquest heard the number of staff in the department had increased from 45 in 2021 to 99 currently.

‘Our community is angry’

Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said gun licensing systems were “not fit for purpose”.

“The inquest has found the failings are systemic and so deep rooted, the confidence that the public should have in the police to keep us safe – to licence firearms correctly – is absent.

“The inquest might have concluded, but the pain people still feel is very real.”

Mr Pollard said: “I do not have confidence in Devon and Cornwall Police to issue firearms licences, and every gun certificate they have issued must be reviewed in light of the failings laid bare by the inquest.

“I am angry. Our community is angry. We want to see comprehensive change to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”

Ian Arrow, senior coroner for Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, said he would be preparing a preventing future deaths report to address “the likelihood of shotgun licences being inappropriately granted”.

In a joint statement, the Martyn, Washington and Shepherd families said the shooting “was an act of pure evil”.

They added: “However, we now know that this evil act was facilitated and enabled by a series of failings and incompetence from the people and organisations that are supposed to keep us safe.”

The families said they had been “hopelessly failed by the system” and in particular by Devon and Cornwall Police.

They said the evidence heard at the inquest told “a consistent story of individual failures, breathtaking incompetence and systemic failings within every level of the firearms licensing unit of the Devon and Cornwall Police force”.

They said: “It is beyond us how Davison, a man with a known history of violence, mental health issues, and with no real need to own a firearm, was granted a licence to possess a gun in the first place.”

Delivering a narrative conclusion on behalf of the jury, the coroner said: “There was a serious failure by Devon and Cornwall Police’s firearms and explosive licensing unit in granting and later failing to revoke the perpetrator’s shotgun licence.”

After hearing evidence from more than 50 witnesses the jury concluded there was “a lack of scrutiny and professional curiosity at all levels” and a “seriously unsafe culture of defaulting to granting licences and returning licences after review”.

It said there was a “catastrophic failure in the management of the firearms licensing department at Devon and Cornwall Police”.

“This was compounded by a lack of senior management and executive leadership who failed to notice or address the issues.”

The jury also concluded there had been “a serious failure at a national level by the government, Home Office and National College of Policing” to implement previous recommendations to improve firearms safety.

In the wake of the Dunblane shootings in 1996, Lord Cullen recommended nationally accredited training for firearms enquiry officers and that recommendation was echoed in 2015 in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary’s Targeting the Risk Report.

Davison had applied to Devon and Cornwall Police for a shotgun certificate in July 2017 aged 18, saying he wanted to go clay pigeon shooting with his uncle.

As part of the application process Davison had declared he was autistic and had Asperger’s, but when police sought relevant information from his GP, the doctor declined to provide any as it was not mandatory.

Weatherby pump-action shotgun (top) used by Jake Davison above a standard sporting style twin-barrel shotgun

Image source, Plymouth Coroner

The jury was shown a picture of the Weatherby pump-action shotgun (top) used by Jake Davison next to a standard sporting style twin-barrel shotgun (below)

Davison had a history of violence at the special school he attended and in September 2020 he repeatedly punched a 15-year-old boy in the face and slapped a 16-year-old girl in a skate park in Plymouth, the inquest heard.

Police decided on a deferred charge of battery – which could be dealt with by restorative justice – rather than the more serious charge of actual bodily harm.

Under the restorative justice scheme, called Pathfinder, Davison had to complete an online “thinking skills” course and was given a 40-page anger management booklet.

Following completion of the scheme Davison was given his shotgun and certificate back in July 2021 – a month before the tragedy.

‘Missed opportunities’

The IOPC watchdog found two employees of Devon and Cornwall Police had a case to answer for misconduct over the way they dealt with Davison’s gun licence.

David Ford, IOPC regional director, said: “The potential corporate failing of Devon and Cornwall Police as an organisation is subject to our separate criminal inquiry into possible health and safety breaches.”

Mr Ford added the IOPC was liaising with the Home Office regarding “recommendations at a national level to help inform improved firearms licensing arrangements and guidance for the police service as a whole”.

A Home Office spokesperson said it would “reflect” on the report and any recommendations from the coroner and “respond in due course”.

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, said the evidence heard at the inquest “provided a clear and independent understanding of missed opportunities”.

Ms Hernandez said: “I am working with the Home Office and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) so that we learn nationally from this tragedy to ensure that nothing like it happens again.”

One thought on “Mass Plymouth shootings – Breathtaking incompetence and failings by police

  1. My experience when talking to friends who have licensed shotguns for legitimate purposes, in Devon, is that they have always complied with what they fully understand to be strict regulations. They are conscious of good, professional relationships between police and GPs, and that their firearms officers know them by name and are not above reaching out to discuss matters which might be of concern. So it may be unfair to tar the whole of Devon’s firearms officers with the failings of this case.

    People who are competent and actually care about their jobs will always do them to the best of their ability.

    This case is not a matter of missed opportunities, it relates to gross negligence.

    Apart from the officers determined to be conscientious there is a sloppy culture at Devon and Cornwall, with a determination to present every matter in such a way as to protect the negligent officers and the reputation of the force.

    For example when a diner was injured in Exeter in 2019 by an air gun pellet randomly fired through a pub window one evening, the charges and the presentation to the press were handled in such a way as to conceal that two cars had been at the pub in the afternoon and pushed off without finding the perpetrator.

    Even though the window overlooking the pub was open and the inebriated assailant had come outside to talk to the officers in attendance, breathing his cider fumes over them.

    Had this earlier visit been professionally completed, the injury would not have been sustained.

    Of course we also have the case of John Humphreys, protected by negligence, misconduct, or corruption for over thirty years and with every negligent or corrupt officer still enjoying the protection of the hierarchy and associated bigwigs.

    Will Kerr’s comments regarding Keyham suggest the force will always find a way to protect as many bad apples as possible.


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