February 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 22-03-2020
GCN collects data on gun incidents and related sentences, inquests and investigations in England, Scotland, and Wales as reported in the British media. We know our information is incomplete, though we believe nearly all the most serious crimes are included.
This Review refers to incidents that occurred during February 2020 and to earlier incidents for which further information has now been reported, often as a result of a court case or inquest. Please note that the data used for the Figures is derived solely from incidents that occurred, or first came to our attention, in February 2020.
Figure 1: February incident reports by type
We monitor FATAL GUN INCIDENTS in Great Britain and compile a list that summarises the available information. Our summaries for 2017-18 and 2018-19 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We are aware of at least three reports in February concerning four gun deaths:
- A woman has died after she was shot with a shotgun outside a cottage in Winsford, Somerset. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. The woman’s husband was found in a nearby outbuilding with serious shotgun injuries, believed to be self-inflicted, from which he died later in hospital. A police spokesperson said they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the shooting. The force has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct due to previous contact with those involved. It is believed that officers had seized licensed firearms after the man was arrested for drink driving just days before the shooting.
- Surveillance police officers shot a man who stabbed members of the public with a knife in Streatham, London. The man, who had hoax explosives strapped to his chest, died at the scene. The attack is being treated as a terror-related incident.
- Police officers responded to a concern for the welfare of a man at a residential address in Didcot, Berkshire. It was later confirmed that the man had died in a firearm incident. The death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious.
We are aware of at least two inquests in February 2020 relating to gun deaths:
- An inquest has been opened into the death of a man in Morcombelake, Dorset last month. The man died in hospital after being discovered in his home with a head injury. A gun, registered to the deceased, was found by his side. Police concluded there were no suspicious circumstances and the cause of death was recorded as a self-inflicted gunshot injury to the head. N.B. GCN notes the gun was reported to have been legally held by the deceased.
- An inquest into the death of a man in Bognor Regis, West Sussex in October last year has concluded that he died after shooting himself at the rifle range he had run for twenty years. The man, who was said to have been “unwell for some time suffering from depression”, left letters to family members, staff at the range and a firearms licensing officer. The letters to staff indicated that he may have been having some financial problems. N.B. The inquest failed to record the status of the gun; however, GCN believes it is likely to have been legally held by the deceased. We are concerned that, despite his mental health issues, the deceased was able to retain access to guns and run a rifle range. We are also concerned about the nature of the relationship between the deceased and the Firearms Licensing Officer to whom he wrote.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least ten reports in February 2020 that we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
- See Gun Deaths above − An apparent shotgun domestic murder/suicide in Somerset.
- A 60-year-old former crime reduction officer has been handed a suspended two-year jail sentence and ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work after admitting burglary with intent, criminal damage, and possessing a firearm and other weapons. After meeting a woman on the Internet, the man visited her home in Thurnham, Kent, where he threatened and terrorised her, causing her to flee in terror through a rear window. On sentencing, the judge accepted that the man had no intention of using the BB gun he had taken to the woman’s property. He issued a five-year restraining order prohibiting him from contacting the victim.
- A man from Rhosgadfan, Gwynedd was handed a four-and-a-half-year jail term with a licence period of five years after he admitted stalking, false imprisonment, making a threat to kill and a shotgun charge. In August last year, after harassing his ex-partner for months, Jones confronted her with a shotgun as she arrived home one evening. He took her into a barn and kept her there all night, telling her he had lost everything and was going to end it all. He put the gun down but, at times, acted aggressively. In the morning he allowed the woman out of the barn to attend a medical appointment; she told her doctor what had happened and police were alerted. The court heard that the victim had been “scared witless” during the ordeal and had since suffered severe anxiety. The man will be treated in a secure hospital until he is well enough to be transferred to prison and he must not approach or contact the victim for ten years.
- A man from Newark, Nottinghamshire has been jailed for 26 months after admitting to sending distressing electronic communications, two counts of criminal damage and having a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. In September last year, after telling his girlfriend to leave their home, the man held an unloaded airgun to her temple as she packed her car. The court heard that he had become difficult after he developed anxiety and depression and started to drink heavily. The judge banned the man from contacting his ex-partner and ordered the destruction of two firearms found in his home.
- A woman has been arrested in Ashington, Northumberland after allegedly threatening a man known to her with a firearm.
- A man has been jailed for six-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to four charges including assaulting police by aiming a shotgun at them and making racially-aggravated threats. In July last year, the man wakened a neighbour in the early hours of the morning by shouting racist abuse at her and yelling other comments. Police officers went to the woman’s flat in Glasgow, Scotland, where they found her barricaded inside with her two children. Officers, who noticed a spent shotgun cartridge lying near the perpetrator’s door, retreated as he pointed the shotgun at them. The man’s father arrived at the scene and grabbed his son, allowing officers to move in and handcuff him. The man will be monitored for three years on his release.
- A man was handed a prison sentence of thirteen years and two months, with an extended three-year licence period, after he pleaded guilty to possession of a double-barrelled shotgun with intent to endanger life. In July last year, the man was a passenger in a stolen car that repeatedly drove past a house in Bradford, West Yorkshire where a children’s party was being held. When the car stopped, the perpetrator pointed a sawn-off shotgun out of the window towards a man in the front garden, as witnessed by a 2-year-old girl who ran off around the side of the house. The perpetrator fired the gun causing damage to the property. The court heard that the perpetrator had fallen out with a man who lived at the house and had wanted to “scare” the occupants. The judge imposed a restraining order, without limit of time, banning the perpetrator from contacting anyone who was at the house that night and referred to the real harm being the psychological impact.
- A man has been jailed for four years and eight months after admitting robbery, possession of an imitation firearm and possession of a bladed article in a public place. After arranging to meet up with a sex worker at her home in Warrington, Cheshire, the man burst into her property and pointed an imitation gun at her face. When she screamed, the perpetrator threatened to kill her. Wielding the gun and a knife, he pushed her on to the floor and demanded money from her. The police retrieved a BB gun and knife from the perpetrator’s car when they arrested him three days later. The judge imposed a restraining order preventing him from contacting his victim indefinitely and ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the imitation firearm and knife.
- A man has been jailed for five years after admitting possession of a disguised firearm and four counts of sending a malicious communication. In December last year, the man sent increasingly threatening video messages to a woman whose daughter, he believed, had threatened his own daughter. In one video, he discharged a stun gun and threatened to Taser the woman and her family. Earlier on the same day, the man had sent threatening messages to an ex-partner, suggesting she move away. He was arrested after firearms officers recovered an axe, a sword and the Taser, (disguised as a torch) from his home in Seaham, Co. Durham. The judge imposed a restraining order, prohibiting the man from contacting the two women for fifteen years.
- A twenty-year-old man has been jailed for five years and five months after pleading guilty to false imprisonment, supplying cannabis and supplying heroin. In July last year, the man forced a 16-year-old boy into his car before driving him to Sheffield, South Yorkshire. The boy was told he was “never going home” and was threatened with sexual assault after a second man in the car ordered him to strip down to his underwear. The victim could see what looked like a pistol in the front passenger footwell as the perpetrator drove around Sheffield collecting parts of a shotgun. The weapon was put together and pointed at the boy’s head by the second offender, who has never been identified. The boy was told there was a bounty of £4,000 on him and he would be “popped” in the leg if he refused to sell heroin and cannabis for a drugs gang. The boy was later left at a railway station with no money. A few days later, the perpetrator barged into the boy’s home, only fleeing when his mother called the police. The court heard that the perpetrator became involved with drugs at the age of fourteen and had himself been threatened by gang members coercing him to continue offending.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least six reports in February 2020 that we believe relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition, and two relating to former licensed gun owners including:
- See Gun Deaths above − An apparent domestic murder/suicide in Somerset. A terror related stabbing incident in London which resulted in the death of a man shot by police.
- See Inquests above − A man from Dorset found with a fatal head injury and his legally held gun at his side. A man from West Sussex found fatally shot at his rifle range business where he continued to have access to guns despite suffering from depression and financial problems.
- A man, who suffered life-changing injuries as a result of being shot by police during an arrest at his home in Hackney, London, has been jailed for life for attempted murder, possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear and robbery.
- A man, whose shotgun licence was revoked after he stored his firearms at his son’s house while his own home was being renovated, has won an appeal to have it reinstated. The weapons were confiscated after police officers discovered 200 cannabis plants at a second property owned by his son in Seething, Norfolk. The applicant, who said he thought his son held a valid gun licence, claimed to know nothing of the cannabis factory. The Firearms Manager at Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies told the hearing that the man had failed to notify the police of the change of address and gave access to an unauthorised person. In his view, this constituted a “blatant disregard to the certificate and that represented a danger to public safety.” The judge, while “not at all critical” of the initial decision to revoke the man’s licence, allowed his appeal to stand.
We note at least two incidents involving former licensed gun owners including:
- A man from Stoke, Staffordshire was handed a custodial sentence of five years after pleading guilty to possession of a prohibited firearm. While the man was in hospital with a broken hip, his sister discovered a sawn-off shotgun, cartridges and gunpowder under his bed. Police were informed and he was arrested in hospital. The man had previously held a firearms certificate and claimed to have bought the gun for £30 from a man who came to his door.
- A man was fined £500 and ordered to pay costs of £185 and a victim surcharge of £30 after police searching his home in Lyde, Hertfordshire on an unrelated matter discovered an assault rifle. It was discovered that the man’s firearms certificate had not been renewed after it expired in June 2017.
We note at least four incidents involving the use of police Tasers including:
- An incident being investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct relating to the use of a Taser by a police officer at a shopping centre in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
- An incident in Stroud Green, North London has been referred to the BCU professional standards after a video was posted online that appeared to show police officers kneeing a man in the back and punching him in the head. A witness described the force as “unnecessary”, the man being already disorientated from the Taser.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least two reports in February 2020 relating to 48 stolen guns:
- 41 paintball guns and two boxes of paintballs have been stolen from a storage container in Aberdeen, Scotland.
- Seven airsoft pistols were reportedly stolen by a man who forced entry into a shop in Tamworth, Staffordshire. An off-duty police officer disturbed the suspect, who fled with weaponry worth around £1400.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least eight reports in February 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- A man has been fined £450 for shooting a sparrowhawk with an air rifle near his home in Cowie, Stirlingshire. The man, a pigeon fancier, shot the bird of prey three or four times after he saw it attacking a pigeon in a field adjacent to his garden. Police officers were alerted but, despite treatment, the bird died from its injuries.
- A man from Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, found to have used an air rifle to shoot and steal eight pheasants, received a 12-month community order with 80 hours unpaid work and a £120 fine for breaching a conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £320 to the owner, who rears pheasants to be used on licensed shoots held on his estate.
- A sparrowhawk had to be put to sleep after it was found with airgun injuries in Suffolk. A peregrine falcon has been found dead with airgun injuries in West Yorkshire. The owners of a cat recovering after surgery following an airgun attack in Nottinghamshire, have offered £1000 reward for information in connection with its shooting. A cat has been shot dead in Kent. A kitten is recovering following surgery after being shot in Somerset. A cat has been put to sleep after being shot in Tyne and Wear.
Imitation, Airsoft, airguns and BB guns do not currently require a licence in England or Wales. These guns are responsible for many gun injuries to both humans and animals.
N.B. Since January 2017, airgun owners in Scotland have been required to have a licence, and airgun crime in Scotland has since decreased by one third.
Gun Control Network, The RSPCA, The Cats Protection League, other organisations and individuals are calling for similar legislation in England and Wales. MPs and families bereaved as a result of ‘child on child’ airgun fatalities are concerned about the unacceptable delay in announcing the outcome of the Home Office review of air weapon regulation, which was announced in October 2017.
Border Force and National Crime Agency
We are aware of one report in February 2020 relating to illegal firearms:
- After Border Force officers seized a parcel from America containing two semi-automatic pistols and a quantity of ammunition, National Crime Agency (NCA) officers arrested two men in Coventry, West Midlands. One of the suspects was subsequently charged with attempting to possess five firearms and attempting to possess Section One ammunition, while the second man was released under investigation. An NCA spokesperson said: “Our investigation into this seizure is ongoing, but undoubtedly these firearms would have ended up on the black market and in the hands of criminals.”
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 39 reports in February 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A 36-year-old man has been sent to prison for fourteen-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to two counts of possessing a firearm, two counts of possessing a firearm without a certificate, three counts of possessing a prohibited weapon for discharge of noxious gas, possessing prohibited ammunition and other charges. In August last year, following a covert operation, police officers retrieved three firearms from a drain under children’s play equipment in the man’s garden in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; one of the guns was found to be loaded. A further gun, £28,000 in cash and 1.5kg of cocaine were also recovered.
- A 66-year-old man has been handed a twelve-month community order with ten days of rehabilitation activity after admitting to possession of a firearm. In October last year, a woman alerted police after she saw the man swinging a silver gun as he walked along a street in Cardiff, Wales. As officers approached him and asked if he had a firearm, he shouted, “I am the head of the IRA” and pulled the gun from a bag. It was discovered that he also had two packets of steel ball bearings and a gas canister. The judge, referring to a psychiatric report that concluded custody was not suitable, and taking into account that the perpetrator had already served the equivalent of an eight-month prison sentence on remand, imposed the community order. The man must pay a £90 victim surcharge and the firearm is to be destroyed.
- Five men involved in the sale of a pump action shotgun have been jailed for a total of more than 50 years after being charged with conspiracy to transfer a prohibited firearm. Following a surveillance operation, during which specialist officers witnessed cash being handed over in a vehicle in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, the firearm and six live cartridges were retrieved from the boot of a minicab heading to London. Detectives believe the shotgun, capable of rapid fire and prohibited in the UK, was smuggled from America and was destined for gang-related criminality. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said: “This weapon was capable of wiping out a room in seconds and could have been devastating if it had ended up in the wrong hands.”
- Six members of a drug supply gang from Liverpool, Merseyside have been jailed for a total of 86 years. It is believed that, between December 2018 and June 2019, the men distributed more than £8million worth of cocaine in locations including Wrexham, Bradford, Bolton, Newcastle and London.
Incidents by Weapon Type
Many incidents involve the use of airguns*, Airsoft, imitation and BB guns, which do not require a licence and may not contain ammunition but are used by perpetrators to capitalise on the fear of victims who believe they are about to be shot. Traumatised victims are often unable to identify the weapons used. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between imitation and live-firing guns unless the weapons are fired and/or recovered, and, for this reason, guns involved in incidents frequently remain unidentified.
Shotguns and rifles can be legally held by those granted a licence. Ultimately, legally-obtained guns in every country tend to find their way into the wrong hands, whether through theft corrupt gun dealers, and/or the failure of the licensing procedure to identify legal gun owners who pose a risk to themselves and/or others.
Please see the endnote for further explanation of gun types and current legal status.
Figure 2: February 2020 reports by weapon type
See Gun incidents in the UK page for details of incidents involving these gun types.
Guns that do not require a licence: Airguns* (so-called ‘low-powered’); Airsoft; ball-bearing; imitation; paintball; antique; deactivated; bolt guns** and starting pistols/blank firers. These guns are cheap, accessible and available to buy on impulse. Moreover, lack of secure storage requirements enables theft. Many are capable of being converted into more powerful weapons. Guns deactivated to early specifications are capable of reactivation and recent, more rigorous specifications are not retrospective.
There is no legal definition of ‘antique’ and, although possession of antique guns is prohibited to those having served or received a criminal sentence, it is unclear how this is administered during sales and transfers.
Airsoft guns are exempt from the terms of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and are ‘self-regulated’ by the Airsoft industry. The Home Office fails to collect data on the proliferation of Airsoft skirmishing sites.
- *From January 2017 airgun owners in Scotland have required a licence.
- ** A ‘slaughter licence’ is required for a bolt gun.
Guns that require a licence: Airguns in Scotland; shotguns; rifles; police firearms/ Tasers.
The inadequate licensing procedure is subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £20 million a year. Any number of shotguns can be held on one certificate, which lasts for five years. The licensing procedure consistently fails to protect the public from licensed gun-owning perpetrators and women are particularly at risk of domestic violence involving licensed gun owners. However, the Home Office fails to publish data regarding the number of Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition involved in crime, and the status of guns used in suicides is not recorded at inquests.
Guns that are prohibited: Handguns (revolvers, pistols etc.); Olympic starting pistols; Tasers; submachine guns; and ‘other’ weapons (pepper spray/CS Gas; home-made guns and explosive devices). Certain handguns are exempt from prohibition. Handgun, Taser and pepper spray use is authorised for police, but there are concerns regarding fatalities and Taser training.
Imitation/Airsoft guns are available without background checks. Crimes reported in the media as involving handguns are likely to involve imitations, airsoft, air pistols or other guns that look like handguns, resulting in misleadingly-inflated reports of handgun crime.
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