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Association of Chief Police Officers


Firearms & Explosives Licensing Working Group

Adrian Whiting AIExpE, Chair


Assistant Chief Constable, Dorset Police
Dorset Police Headquarters, Winfrith, Dorchester, DT2 8DZ
(01305 223706)

A report (Part 1) concerning the grant of a firearm certificate and a


shotgun certificate to Derrick Bird by Cumbria Constabulary and (Part 2)
observations regarding potential changes to the system of granting
such certificates and related provisions in law.

Part 2

1.0 June 2010

1.1 On 2nd June 2010 Derrick Bird murdered twelve people and grievously
injured eleven by using a shotgun and a rifle, which together with ammunition
for the rifle, he lawfully possessed by authority of a firearm certificate and a
shotgun certificate. He lawfully possessed shotgun ammunition, though a
certificate was not necessary for him to do so.

1.2 Mr Craig Mackey, the Chief Constable for Cumbria, sought an urgent
review of his Constabulary’s decision making and actions in respect of the
shotgun certificate and the firearm certificate granted to Derrick Bird. In the
circumstances of these events he sought assistance from the Association of
Chief Police Officers for England, Wales & Northern Ireland, (ACPO) through
the form of a peer review, and as the ACPO lead chief officer for firearms &
explosives licensing, I was asked by the ACPO President to undertake this
review.

1.3 For convenience I set out my terms of reference from the Chief
Constable below. Details regarding the process for the review arrangements
and details concerning my engagement in this area of policing are set out later
at Annex A.

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2.0 Terms of reference

2.1 I was provided with the following terms of reference following


correspondence on the 7th June 2010;

Terms of reference concerning Cumbria Constabulary Firearms & Explosives


Licensing arrangements.

Overview
nd
On Wednesday 2 June 2010 it is believed that Derrick Bird murdered 12 people and injured
a further 11. It is then believed that he took his own life. In each case it is believed he used a
firearm or firearms that he possessed lawfully by authority of his firearm and shotgun
certificates.

Those certificates had been granted to him by Cumbria Constabulary.

Review
The objective is to review the circumstances surrounding the grant and any subsequent
renewal of Derrick Bird’s certificates by Cumbria Constabulary, and whether the decisions
made and actions taken were reasonable in all the circumstances taking in to account the
law, national guidance from the Home Office and the UK police service, and local force policy.

Based upon the findings, to make any recommendations and observations as may seem
appropriate on the above.

Additional matters
It is possible that the review may identify potential areas for improvement in respect of
national guidance and the law that would improve public safety.

Further guidance will be required from the Chief Constable of Cumbria and the ACPO
President as to any recommendations that might go on to offer comment on;

Legislative and guidance changes that, if implemented, may have been capable of acting
directly on the circumstances of this case.

Legislative and guidance changes that if implemented may generally improve public safety.

………………………………………………..
Mr Craig Mackey
Chief Constable for Cumbria

2.2 I have attended to these matters and report my findings in two parts.
The first part has been submitted to the Chief Constable for Cumbria and
concerns arrangements in his Constabulary. This second part concerns the
control of firearms etc more widely, including through the licensing system.

2.3 In the interim the Home Affairs Committee has announced that it will
conduct an inquiry into firearms control. As might be expected, ACPO has
made submissions to the Committee, in response to their general invitation to
do so. One of these submissions has been made by the ACPO Firearms &
Explosives Licensing Working Group (FELWG). Of necessity I draw on it
here, as the subject matter significantly overlaps.
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3.0 Key points summary

3.1 In my view the current licensing system was properly operated by


Cumbria Constabulary. There do not appear to be any features of this case
that provide a clear opportunity to improve the system in such a way as to
have prevented these events. It might be argued that given the apparent
relative infrequency of such appalling events the licensing system is largely fit
for purpose, and is professionally operated by police forces. Clearly it would
be unreasonable to simply apply this thinking in the wake of events and not
seek to determine whether reasonable improvements can be made. I have
taken this as my starting point.

3.2 I am unable to make any specific recommendations for changes to


legislation or guidance such as would have prevented these particular events.

3.3 I can make a number of recommendations for changes that I consider


would improve public safety more widely in this area but I cannot tie them
specifically into these events.

3.4 The key improvements I recommend concern;

 Establishing formal data links between the General Practitioner, mental


health and police services so as to enable medical professionals to be
able to alert police to concerns regarding certificate holders.

 Making any appropriate enquiry of the applicant’s GP, at application for


grant or renewal, at the applicant’s expense rather than under the
current arrangements, which fall to be funded by the police service, in
accordance with the current Home Office guidance.

 Making formal enquiry of members of an applicant’s family at grant and


renewal as to the applicant’s suitability.

 Operating a single type of certificate for both firearms and shotguns.

3.5 Absolute prevention of murders and assaults of this very nature is, in
my view, far more closely related to the fundamental question of the private
ownership of firearms than the operation of the system of licensing. In short,
very radical changes would be necessary to guarantee such circumstances
could not occur again, no matter that they appear to be very rare.

3.6 The hard truth is that the system of certification is designed to reduce
the risk of lawfully possessed firearms being misused criminally, not to
eliminate it altogether. To achieve that would require a very different
approach from Parliament and a different agreement between a government
and the people it governs. The police service is not well placed to offer
comment on such a change and so I have worked on the basis that a broadly

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similar system to that in existence now will still be required, and have looked
to improve it.

4.0 Main considerations.

4.1 In my view none of the obvious matters raised for discussion in terms
of the firearm licensing system are immediately applicable to the appalling
circumstances in Cumbria. Frequent parallels have been drawn with the
multiple murders and suicides committed by Michael Ryan and Thomas
Hamilton. Following those events Government focussed on legislative change
in order to reduce the potential for repetition. In the first instance the Firearms
(Amendment) Act 1988 made a number of changes, which included attaching
“prohibited” status to certain types of firearm. A very similar approach was
taken in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 (and the No 2 Act of that year).
In essence the changes in law sought to prohibit, and therefore remove from
more general licensed possession, the types of firearm associated with the
murders. Recent clarification has confirmed that the law was intended not to
prevent those in unlawful possession of firearms from committing such
offences (as existing law attended to them) but to prevent people otherwise in
lawful possession of such firearms from misusing them to deadly and criminal
effect. The public seem to have an expectation that the possession of
handguns by private individuals is now entirely prohibited. Largely this is the
case although there has been a noteworthy increase in lawful possession of
handguns for the humane despatch of animals or for pest control, there now
being some 1700 handguns possessed for this purpose. This trend features
handguns of varying calibres and without restriction to their magazine
capacity. It seems to me that in some cases the reason for possession is not
really so much humane despatch but the protection of the certificate holder
from a dangerous animal being tracked. I suggest that greater clarity in law as
to Parliament’s wishes in this area should be given.

4.2 Applying the previous Amendment Acts thinking to this matter would
tend to suggest either prohibition or much more stringent controls on 12g
double barrelled shotguns and on single shot bolt action .22”RF rifles. These
types of firearm are among the most widely possessed in private hands, and
to prohibit them would essentially mean the cessation of private firearms
ownership. This is clearly an option for Government, but my recommendation
to ACPO is that there is currently insufficient evidence to justify strong support
for any such proposal. In fact the indications to date are that this is not seen
as a viable Government policy anyway. In fairness the review reports
concerning the murders in Hungerford and Dunblane did not particularly
concentrate on the nature of the firearms and ammunition used as a causation
factor. Indeed Chief Constable Colin Smith, in respect of the Hungerford
murders, indicated that a shotgun could have similar lethal potential to a
firearm and made a recommendation in respect of their control through the
certificate process. A shotgun had not been used in those events and so it
seems clear that he had appreciated that the constraining effect required
needed to be applied to the approval of the certificate holder in the first place,
rather than on the exact nature of the firearm misused.

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4.3 In terms of pursuing more stringent controls, certain suggestions would


also not be directly applicable here. The evidence indicates that Derrick Bird
had infrequent contact with medical professionals and so any concept that his
GP or similar person could have alerted police would not be relevant. It
seems that members of his family were already aware of his possession of
firearms, as was the friend to whom he handed one of his shotguns the night
before the murders. Any wider enquiry base as to his suitability to possess
firearms and ammunition would not seemingly have elicited any concerns,
even up to the evening before. The firearms misused were of the simplest
operating system. There are no technical aspects of their operation that might
be usefully constrained such as would have drastically reduced their lethal
capacity.

4.4 Derrick Bird possessed shotguns and a firearm (rifle) in order to


undertake pest control, and shoot at artificial targets (in his case clay
pigeons). He had the appropriate permissions to pursue these activities
lawfully. As a result he did not need to be a member of a shooting club, so
there are no arrangements in terms of club administration that would be
directly relevant. Given the nature of this type of shooting, often undertaken
alone or with small groups of people, compulsory membership of some form
of Home Office Approved Club (which would require a change in
arrangements anyway) would be unlikely to provide the same safeguards that
occur in respect of such clubs engaged in target shooting. This is because
those clubs regularly meet and shoot together, individuals are well known and
matters of concern, if any, are more easily identified.

4.5 Had Derrick Bird been required to give a good reason to possess each
of his shotguns, then I am of the view he would still have been able to. He
possessed three shotguns of different type, and I have set out the details in
part 1. Each was useful for different reasons. Whilst separate good reason is
required for each Section 1 firearm, he possessed just one rifle. The good
reason had been investigated by the police and found to be genuine.

4.6 In considering whether or not it should be acceptable for a person to


give their “good reason” as pest control when they are not engaged in
employment directly related to the shooting, or that they should be able to
show recreational use as good reason, it would have to be borne in mind that
landowners are under obligation to control pests. If this was limited to those
employed for the purpose then there would be a detrimental effect on
agricultural and similar economies. In fact there is sometimes payment made
in order to shoot pests, although more frequent is an arrangement whereby
there is no payment made either way. Whatever the case, it can be in the
landowner’s clear interest to allow shooting at no net cost, and so to limit the
good reason to those whose livelihood depends upon it would have
unfortunate unintended consequences I would suggest. Target shooting may
be seen in a harsher light, but the fact remains that Derrick Bird did not
possess his firearm for that purpose, albeit he did advise the police he would
shoot targets from time to time, as would be the case for all pest controllers,
in order to check their “zero” (alignment of sights and the bullet’s point of
impact).
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4.7 A further suggestion is that certificate holders should not be able to


store firearms at their home address. In these circumstances such a
requirement would only have introduced a delay whilst they were collected. I
cannot foresee that requirements of this sort could avert a person intent on
murder.

4.8 There are, however, a number of changes that whilst not directly
relevant to the murders and assaults in Cumbria, could improve public safety
more generally in terms of the risks associated with lawfully held firearms.

4.9 It is important that the public are aware that public access to Section 1
firearms without the need for a firearm certificate or indeed supervision can be
achieved reasonably easily. On behalf of ACPO I have expressed unease
with the provisions under Section 11 (4) Firearms Act 1968 regarding
miniature rifle ranges. Whilst there is only limited evidence to indicate that
people otherwise refused a firearm certificate have subsequently gone on to
possess .22”RF rifles under these provisions I believe that a clear risk exists
that should be legislated for before a tragedy occurs. It should be noted that
whilst it may be thought that such ranges might confine themselves to use of
the .22”RF round, in fact the law permits any cartridge not exceeding .23”
diameter (for historic reasons pre-dating the Firearms Act 1920, concerning
the widely used practice ammunition of the day). This would thus include
rounds such as the 4.6 x 30mm utilised in the Heckler & Koch MP7 Personal
Defence Weapon by the MoD Police. Likewise there are some limited
concerns regarding Home Office (HO) Approved Shooting Clubs where it is
possible for a person to have unvetted access to firearms and ammunition
whilst not in the presence of a certificate holder. Whilst it seems that no risk in
this regard has actually materialised yet, simple amendment to the law could
prevent it from doing so without adversely affecting the club’s lawful activities.
The categories of shooting for which a club can gain HO approval is now
significantly more limited than the available shooting disciplines, and does not,
for example, include the “practical” shooting disciplines. In my view there is
merit in the HO increasing the range of permitted shooting disciplines for
which approval can be granted so as to enable the rigour applied to approved
clubs being extended to others. The current benefit is that a club may hold a
club firearm certificate at no cost, however I do not think that increasing the
number of clubs to whom this facility is available will fundamentally undermine
the costs issues. It should be noted that this aspect is not one for legislative
reform, but part of our ongoing work.

4.10 I have offered, again on behalf of ACPO, that the rather final provision
relating to revocation should be complemented by a power to suspend a
certificate for a period of time, subject to the same appeal procedures as for
revocation. Such a provision could avoid revocation whilst a matter is
investigated. In many cases a chief officer has to come to a view ahead of
investigation, especially where dispute exists between parties. In addition I
would welcome further consideration being given to the route of appeals
against revocation or refusal. The route currently is to the Crown Court, but
has previously been to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction.
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4.11 I consider that it is timely to review what Parliament wishes to achieve


in respect of “prohibited persons” within the meaning of Section 21 Firearms
Act 1968. The circumstances in Cumbria appeared to demonstrate some
disconnect between the public (or at least the media) expectation in this
regard and the law. In particular how the courts interpret the law in relation to
wholly suspended sentences hangs on the wording of the law prior to the
introduction of such provisions. In addition, orders made in relation to a
person’s mental health are only engaged under the more general
considerations of a person’s suitability rather than through any express
prohibition. Greater public safety through improved clarity could potentially be
gained here. It is also important to recall that a person who has been refused
a certificate, or had one revoked, is not a “prohibited” person under the Act.
They can still avail themselves of the exemptions from the need for a
certificate to authorise their possession of firearms and ammunition in the
relevant circumstances. I recommend that ACPO support a proposal that
prohibited person status be attached to wholly suspended sentences of
imprisonment.

4.12 Police forces are expected by Parliament to have regard to the Home
Office guidance in this area. The same consideration to the guidance is not
afforded by the courts and in some instances the court has not permitted a
jury to have access to the guidance. I suggest that a change in status to that
of an “Approved Code of Practice” (ACOP) would be useful, drawing on the
parallel with the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005
ACOP.

4.13 In terms of contact with those who are close in relationship terms with
the applicant, then I recommend that there is guidance given on who should
be consulted in the application and renewal process. This needs to be
supported by regulation as otherwise there are clear concerns over interfering
with an individuals’ entitlement to a private life. The number of occasions on
which a close family member may wish to raise a concern is likely to be a
small proportion of the overall whole, and there will be a consideration of
proportionality to attend to. In my view those adults in a domestic relationship
should be enquired of as a matter of requirement.

4.14 I raise proportionality above as it has become directly relevant to the


question of information being provided to medical professionals. This
consideration arose from the few, but horrific, murders and usually suicides
that have occurred involving certificate holders. It has been apparent in some
cases that medical professionals were not aware of a person’s possession of
firearms and would have raised concerns with police if they had been.
Hitherto the Health Service has not considered that it could hold such data
sufficiently securely. There are also concerns about the liabilities of a doctor
who failed to spot some file note that a patient had a firearm, or who, having
seen such a note, chose not to raise a concern when that person later went
on to offend. The current position is that there is greater confidence in the
electronic record systems in terms of their security, although details are
awaited regarding these systems and who has access. It will be understood
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that revealing the addresses of certificate holders could give advantage to


criminals intent on stealing firearms. The Information Commissioner’s Office
has offered that an arrangement to “tag” every certificate holder with the
medical authorities is most likely disproportionate, and that actually attaching
it to a health record may contravene the use to which such a record may be
put. The contention is that there is no persuasive argument to explain why
doing so is in the health interests of each and every certificate holder. I
remain of the view that the concept has merit, but recommend that progress
now rests on the ability of the data holders to keep the data securely enough,
and on the legal position. It may well be that progress can only be achieved
through legislation.

4.15 A similar, though more limited, proposal concerns a formal requirement


that a General Practitioner (GP) be notified of an application for grant or
renewal. No longer term record would be held. This would still have the
question of proportionality to attend to but many of the other concerns would
be militated against. I consider it worthwhile to pursue this possibility. Finally
in this area, current HO guidance advises that where a medical report is
sought by the police then the cost of it should be borne by the tax payer. I
strongly disagree with this view and consider the cost of it should fall to the
applicant because the applicant is seeking to take the benefit of a certificate
as a privilege rather than a right. If a system of notification to a GP of
application for grant or renewal existed, with or without a record then being
held by the GP, I would not consider it necessary to move away from the
present HO guidance that a medical report only be sought where particular
reason requires it. Such a system would enable a GP to raise a concern and
then a report could be sought. In effect such an arrangement would allow a
GP to be the person giving cause for a report to be sought.

4.16 The National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) now


provides a comprehensive record of all applicants and certificate holders. It is
accessible to police forces engaged in firearms licensing. It is entirely
appropriate that awareness of the system remains at the forefront of the
visibility of other law enforcement bodies, since it can be essential that
matters such as “impending prosecution reports” are correctly entered onto
the linked Police National Computer, so as to alert licensing forces.

4.17 Much police effort is concerned with attending to the detail of the
current system, brought about by successive amendations to law and
attendant regulations. Swift alterations to application forms and similar are
inhibited by the need to achieve regulatory change for them to have effect.
Working with shooting organisations a list of subjects jointly considered
suitable for regulatory reform have been submitted to the Home Office some
while ago. These are included at Annex A. Essentially these are matters of
detail where police effort is expended disproportionally to the amount of public
safety achieved. In short it would be better to ease the requirements in
respect of them in order to concentrate effort elsewhere. It remains my firm
view that the critical point of the system in terms of achieving public safety is
the point of grant. It is a mistake to consider that people with potentially
criminal intent do not apply for certificates. It is also a mistake to assume that
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every applicant is more or less safe to be entrusted with the possession of a


firearm.

4.18 Linked to these proposals, I very much consider it sensible that one
type of form is used for both shotgun and firearm certificates, using, as far as
possible, the same applications form too. I do not recommend that requiring a
person to give good reason for each shotgun (as would be the case with
Section 1 firearms) is necessary as I do not think it will produce much public
safety benefit. The most likely benefit, if it were to reduce the number of
shotguns possessed by a person, would be limiting their number in the event
of their theft.

4.19 Formal arrangements for the examination and classification of new


types of firearm do not yet exist and this has led to additional policing effort
when firearms have been brought to the market and sold as one type when
they are subsequently shown to be another. I suggest that legislation is
needed to formalise such arrangements.

4.20 The continued absence of a statement in law regarding lethality is a


very significant continued difficulty, and the frequency of engagement with this
aspect of the definition of a firearm has significantly increased with the growth
in “airsoft skirmishing” 1 and historical re-enactment. I consider that greater
clarity in law is needed because lethality forms part of the legal definition of a
firearm and in practice there is a lack of clarity as to how to determine it.
Similar concerns arise in respect of establishing whether or not a particular
firearm is an antique, as no definition of that term is given either.

4.21 I continue to recommend the introduction of arrangements to replace


the previous Firearms Consultative Committee, and would remain to be
pleased to assist.

5.0 Fees

5.1 The present fees are under national review and on behalf of ACPO I
have made a submission supporting their increase, however the system does
not operate at no net cost to the public. Whilst acknowledging that efficiency
improvements need to continue to be made, regulations and HM treasury
guidance still restrict the activities for which a fee can be charged and the
extent of activities that can be included in that calculation. For example,
where an application is refused the fee must be refunded even though the
investigative work has been completed and paid for by the force. There are a
number of licensing activities, such as the approval of times and places for the
shooting of artificial targets, which are a cost to public funds but for which no
fee can be charged. We strongly argue for changes that will enable these
activities to be charged for too, in common with existing chargeable activities.
I have strongly taken the view that the cost of the provision of medical reports
should fall to the applicant and not the public purse. Currently the Home
Office guidance advises police should bear these costs.

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6.0 Summary of recommendations

Subject Comments
1 Handguns for humane despatch Parliament to
acknowledge and agree
contentedness with the
current arrangements as
being what were
intended in practice.
2 S11(4) FA 1968 – Miniature Rifle Ranges As above
3 HO Club Approvals Revise arrangements
4 Power to suspend certificates short of Cert holder to have
revocation same opportunity to
appeal as with
revocation
5 Refusal/Revocation Appeals Review where these are
heard
6 Prohibited persons Review the meaning in
practice, esp. with a
view to include
suspended sentences
7 Status of HO Guidance Consider an “Approved
Code of Practice” status
8 Formal statement of the extent of enquiries Govt. to set out in
regulation the extent of
enquiries so as to avoid
conflict with privacy
9 Information exchange with medical Continue present work
professionals to determine if
practicable and lawful
10 Introduce a single certificate type for both
s1 firearms and shotguns
11` Establish a formal arrangement for the
classification of new firearm types
12 Clarify the matter of “lethality”
13 Put in place arrangements to replace the
Firearms Consultative Committee
14 Progress the matters listed for Regulatory
reform

Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting


Dorset Police
Chair – ACPO Firearms & Explosives Licensing Working Group
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7.0 Annexe A

Regulatory Reform Order proposals;

1 Amend s11(4) Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) to read “not


exceeding .22” rimfire” instead of “not exceeding .23””. This
links to recommendation 2 above and limits the firearms in use to
rimfire ignition. The RRO proposal here falls short of the ACPO
recommendation that the arrangements for exemption themselves
are reviewed for their suitability in the present day.
2 Extend the life of RFD certificates of registration to 5 years.
This brings it into line with certificate life and reduces the
administrative burden on police with negligible safety risk.
3 Amend the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) so that where
there is currently reference to “occupier” this is changed to
“owner, occupier or other properly authorised person”. This
clarifies the wording in the present day and reduces the
administrative burden on police to determine how to apply the
existing term.
4 Amend s7 of the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) to permit s5
prohibited weapons to be held on a temporary permit where
necessary. This avoids significant administrative action for police
and Home Office in limited circumstances.
5 Amend s5(1)(ab) Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) to read
“Other than one which is chambered for rimfire cartridges not
exceeding .22””. This enables the use of smaller diameter rimfire
cartridges, such as .17” to minimal public safety risk.
6 Remove the restrictions created by s9 Firearms (Amendment)
Act 1997 thus permitting expanding ammunition to be subject
to s1 Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) control. This prohibition
causes additional administrative work for police in exploring good
reason for expanding ammunition and conditioning certificates
accordingly. Minimal public safety benefit, if any, has been
achieved by this prohibition.

1
Airsoft skirmishing is an activity where participants act out military and law
enforcement scenarios. They are usually dressed in the types of clothing that
would be worn for the original activities and utilise non lethal realistic
imitations (externally) of modern firearms. These are constructed to fire plastic
pellets, usually of 6mm diameter and typically weighing 0.2grams. These
pellets are sometimes referred to as “BB” pellets, although this is strictly
speaking erroneous. The term “BB” refers to a pellet size, which is close to
4.5mm, and more accurately now refers to .177” (4.5mm) steel pellets fired by
an airgun (smoothbored). 0.177” lead “BB” pellets are designed to be fired
from an air rifle or air pistol (with rifling). In practice the steel BB pellets are
usually slightly undersize in order to avoid jamming in the barrel.

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