Plymouth shootings: the police gun licensing backlash

When armed police turn up on your doorstep to tell you that they think you are a criminal, it has a devastating effect on you.

Charlie Jacoby investigates.

Stories are piling up of legal shooters in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, with decades of blameless firearms ownership behind them, getting a knock on the door in darkness from armed police who have come to revoke their certificates and seize their guns. Most shooters agree to surrender their certificates and hand over their guns. They are afraid that any fuss will make it less likely they will be granted a certificate in future.

One shooter refused to hand over his guns. He tells his story in the film above. Chris Hart from Plymtree had his guns seized in the past because of a police error. When the police came calling again, he knew what to say and to do, not to let them in, and to record the whole encounter on video and audio.   

Others are not so confident. Fieldsports News knows of a dozen people in the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary area, which includes Dorset, who have had their guns seized in the last few weeks. Among them is a deerstalker who has been a certificate holder for 43 years, a member of the local regional crime squad, and a serving police officer. The policeman tells his story at the bottom of this page.

It has all come about because of the August 2021 Plymouth shootings and Priti Patel’s revised November 2021 guidance to constabularies on gun licensing. What has happened to gun licensing in the UK since then? BASC’s firearms department says that firearms licensing is in a chaotic state, with at least seven police licensing departments having arbitrarily suspended grant applications. It adds that these seven are just the ones that have made a formal announcement; in all probability there are more as there is no way of determining whether grant applications are still being processed. Equally, there are long delays with certificate renewals and variations. If your certificate is due to be renewed in 2022, BASC advises that to in order to be bombproof, you should make an application 4 months (16 weeks) before it expires. This will ensure that the application is made in plenty of time to qualify for the statutory two month extension.

Devon & Cornwall Constabulary has started revoking shooters’ certificates. The problem is, the people they are choosing for revocation are well-liked members of their local communities with, collectively, centuries of blameless gun ownership behind them. 

Andrew Alger had his certificate renewal go through without a hitch at the beginning of August 2021. It was no more than he expected. He has been a licensed shooter without a stain on his character these last 40 years.

In the middle of the month, the tragic Plymouth shootings took place, where a 22-year-old licensed shooter murdered five people and injured two others before fatally shooting himself.

At the end of the month, armed Devon & Cornwall police officers visited Andrew at his home in a Devon village, and removed his guns and certificate without explanation. They told him to contact Devon & Cornwall firearms licensing.

That’s what Andrew has been doing, every week – sometimes twice twice a week – since August. He has met a wall of silence, occasional promises that an officer will call him back, and one email complaining of workload. He escalated the matter to the Devon & Cornwall’s police & crime commissioner Alison Hernandez. That elicited a promise from firearms licensing that someone really will call him back.

Andrew tells his story in this video:

It’s the same story for Gary Ivey in Plymouth. He was returning home from a day’s shooting in October when one of his daughters rang him to say there were armed police officers at his door. They were there to remove his guns. He didn’t know why – and he still doesn’t. Devon & Somerset Police refuse to say more than there was ‘a complaint against him’.

In 2011, he handed in his guns during his divorce, but he has no idea what other official reason the police would have for suddenly deciding he was not fit to hold firearms. Well, he has one reason – but he would be surprised if the police admitted it. He wrote to his local police & crime commissioner in early October 2021 expressing his fear that the Devon & Cornwall Police would use the Plymouth shootings to crack down on lawful gun owners. The armed police were at his door just a few days later.

A story in the Sunday Express reported that Devon & Cornwall was leading a charge to revoke ‘thousands’ of certificates across the UK following the Plymouth shootings. 

However, a later story in the Daily Telegraph says that the number of certificates revoked was just eight.

Case study: Paul Cox

Paul Cox is a respected member of his community, a deerstalker and captain of the local shoot. Devon & Cornwall Constabulary are treating him like a criminal, sending armed officers to his house in darkness to grab back his guns, revoke his certificate and not give him a reason why.
The reason, however, is clear. The Home Office is about to blame Devon & Cornwall for failures that led to the mass shooting in Plymouth in August.

The police action against lawful shooters  – and Paul Cox is not the only one – is a petty attempt  by Devon & Cornwall to make it appear they are a functioning licensing authority. To shooters, it doesn’t look like that.

Even the letter of revocation the police sent Paul (below) includes repeated paragraphs over its two pages. It’s as if someone at police headquarters dropped a pile of revocation letters, put them back together in the wrong order without checking them and handed them to armed police to take to certificate holders homes.

Has this happened to you? Contact charlie@fieldsportschannel.tv

Other forces are failing their shooting communities more significantly. 

North Yorkshire Police says it is halting all firearm and shotgun certificate grants. Constabulary firearms licensing manager deputy inspector Andy Palmer claims that the department is facing significant delays because of new statutory guidance from the government. Other forces have not made these claims. BASC calls the decision by the force ‘a clear breach of their statutory duty’.

Hampshire Police says it will not issue firearms or shotguns certificates ‘for the foreseeable future’ because of covid.

Meanwhile, Derbyshire Constabulary is using the new guidance as a reason to crackdown on gun ownership and revoke certificates. In a post on its Facebook page, Derbyshire Rural Crime Team says: ‘Over the last few weeks the Rural Crime Team have seized approximately 30 firearms from Derbyshire residents owing to their conduct and concern over their suitability to be firearms certificate holders.

“In Derbyshire there is and always has been intense scrutiny and robust safeguarding around firearms licensing. Systems are in place to protect the public 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
 
The public and in particular firearms certificate holders should be under no illusion that should evidence come to light that an individual is no longer suitable to hold a certificate, their firearms and certificate will be seized by officers and a comprehensive review conducted by our Firearms Licencing Team to establish if that person’s certificate should be revoked. The key word in that sentence is ‘evidence’ all cases will be thoroughly investigated and firearms holders can be confident that the outcome will be evidence based. Any offences involving violence and alcohol or any incident that calls into question the person’s fitness to possess firearms will likely result in them being seized.
 
“Can we make it clear to all those who hold firearms certificate and to those who are considering applying for a certificate, your conduct matters and swift, robust action will be taken if your suitability is called into question. The issuing of a firearms certificate is a privilege not a right and we need to be confident that those who hold valid certificates are fit to do so.”
 

This looks like heavyhanded policing to most shooters. There was no reason for the ‘new statutory guidance’. According to a survey by the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners, the public do not feel threatened by legal gun owners in the UK. The survey ran from 30 September to 20 October, yielding a total of 24,430 complete responses including a significant number from people who identified as current or former licence holders. APCC chair Marc Jones says: “We were heartened to see a great deal of agreement between license holders and the wider public. The majority of both groups feel broadly assured about the effectiveness of the firearms licensing regime in England and Wales in keeping people safe. On behalf of the public, who we as PCCs are answerable to, this was important to hear.”

Meanwhile, Andrew waits for Devon & Cornwall Police Firearms Licensing to come back to him. He is hoping for an apology and the restoration of his certificate. He looks after the deerstalking on 1,000 acres of land in Devon and he has been unable to meet his cull targets since August.

As for Gary, he has a special problem. Because he gave up his  guns and certificate voluntarily, his insurance doesn’t cover him. He has instructed solicitors to take Devon & Somerset Constabulary to court, but he has to cover the costs himself. His advice to shooters is to read BASC’s page on gun seizures: BASC.org.uk/when-the-cops-come-calling

Case study: Adam Troman

Adam Troman was lying in bed on a Sunday morning when armed police arrived, unannounced, to take away his guns. He is another victim of Devon & Cornwall Police Firearms Team’s desperate attempt to keep their jobs in the wake of the August 2021 Plymouth shootings tragedy. Their reason for removing his guns is over speeding tickets they allege he did not disclose on his firearms certificate application, back in 2012. For nearly ten years, Adam has been a keen clay and target shooter. Now that has come to an end – and he is at a loss. He says none of the police’s reasons for revoking his certificates are true. He now faces a £6,000 bill to pay for solicitors and barristers to represent him at a Crown Court hearing. Devon & Cornwall Constabuilary are trying to price shooters out of shooting. the only appeal they will allow is in a Crown Court.

Adam loves his clayshooting. Here is his wife Jen on their wedding day, with his late uncle Mark instructing her
Is this why police grabbed back Gary Ivey's guns? The email he wrote to his police & crime commissioner in the wake of the Plymouth shootings
The Sunday Express headline about the police response
The Daily Telegraph correction of the Sunday Express story
A serving police officer writes...

I, too, have been duped into coercively handing over my legally and lawfully owned sporting guns to the police and I am just as confused as your other case study subjects. Except I am a current serving police officer required to carry a section 5 firearm in public. I have had my personal firearms, shotguns and certificates taken with no valid reasons or paperwork given, other than being told I had not disclosed a a learning difficulty on variation applications – even though I declared it on my original application in 2017, which is due for renewal in July 2022.

I informed my employer, and refused to carry my section 5 and utility belt, but was told to resume with normal duties until informed otherwise.

I have been vetted numerous times and worked for different police services in various roles, as well as on military establishments as a pest control wildlife technician.

As a juvenile I owned UK legal air rifles and BB and paintball guns, I went through the Boy Scout program and learned to prepare rabbit, squirrel and pigeon meat as food for survival.

As I got older I began to try clay pigeon shooting and loved the challenge of tracking a moving target. I also got into smallbore and competing in local target shooting competitions.

I then got in to centerfire and reproduction vintage rifles, where I took part in turning target competitions with cowboy-style underlevers and began to press my own bullets.

I am a current serving police officer who routinely carries a section 5 firearm and I have tried out as an AFO.

In early December, I had an unannounced visit from my local constabulary, who showed me their IDs and I invited them in. Once in there was no small talk just: “There’s no easy way of saying this but we are here to take your guns away.”

They told me they couldn’t tell me why, other than I had failed to declare a learning difficulty/neurological condition when I had applied for variations to my license. They told me I declared it on my original application but not on the variations.

I was then escorted to my gun cabinet which they emptied. I asked them to put the guns in individual slips, which they declined. They placed all my guns together in one holdall. I was horrified.

I was concerned how this was going to affect my employment as well as my personal family life. How do I explain this to my family and friends? I was due to go shooting at the weekend.

They left without giving me any official paperwork. I rang 101 and checked that they were on official police business and then I notified my employer, as instructed in police regulations and standards of professional behaviour if I became subject to an investigation, but they gave me the silent treatment.

Eventually someone began to speak to me after I flagged up that I did not know whether to carry my section 5 firearm at work. They told me that, if they didn’t want me to carry, they would have instructed me not to.

They have not followed police regulation 17 by notifying me in writing within five days – but they may have applied something called the harm test which means I have been deemed a danger to myself or others, so they can refuse to disclose the real reason why.

I have since been challenging the legality of the voluntary handover/seizure. I have been met with a wall of silence, other than being told to stop emailing the FELU as it is unprofessional and may result in disciplinary action.

Despite all this, please don’t blame the police. A constable will either have a warrant or immediate grounds to remove your guns.

If you passively resist they can use that as grounds to suspect that you are not complying with the conditions of your license.

Here is what to do if police turn up on your doorstep:

  • In the first instance, keep them on the door step
  • Check their ID
  • Ring 101 and check the legitimacy of the visit, especially if your details were recently leaked on anti-hunting websites (Guntrader and badger cull hacks)
  • Do not rush anything: count every single gun and bit of ammo.
  • Make them treat your guns with care
  • Get a receipt for the guns and ammo.
  • Ask for an official written explanation letter from their chief or a warrant or immediate grounds.

 

Then you will have to file an official complaint to the seizing force and challenge them legally. If still unsatisfied with the outcome, report them to the IOPC.

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