‘Significant progress’ on firearms licensing at Devon and Cornwall Police, but improvements still needed, says HMICFRS

Devon and Cornwall Police has made “significant improvements” in many areas of firearms licensing since the Keyham mass shooting in 2021, but concerns remain over its licences backlog and improper use of temporary permits, the police inspectorate has said.

Jul 28, 2023
By Paul Jacques

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was commissioned by the Home Secretary in April 2023 to undertake an “urgent review” of the force’s progress in implementing recommendations made by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and comments made by the coroner in his prevention of future deaths report.

The mass shooting occurred in the Keyham area of Plymouth on August 12, 2021. The gunman, 22-year-old Jake Davison from the city, shot and killed five people, including his mother, and injured two others before fatally shooting himself.

Inspectors said Devon and Cornwall Police had made positive changes in several areas to improve its ability to assess a person’s suitability to possess firearms, including:

  • Introducing a new management structure to ensure senior officers and supervisors are actively involved in the day-to-day management of the unit;
  • Investing heavily in its firearms licensing department by increasing the number of posts; and
  • Delivering extensive training to officers and staff.

HMICFRS found that the force had implemented four of the five IOPC recommendations and made substantial progress on the comments made by the coroner.

The inspectorate explained that the force did not agree with the wording of the outstanding recommendation, which relates to guidance to evidence review officers. Inspectors said they were satisfied that the force is entering into constructive dialogue with the IOPC, putting forward a strong case for its disagreement.

However, inspectors said they had concerns about the force’s backlog of applications for licences, which had been caused by inefficient processes, inadequate IT systems and the force not taking legitimate opportunities to reduce demand.

HMICFRS also highlighted the force’s inappropriate use of temporary permits, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances. It found temporary permits were being used to help manage volumes, which it said is against statutory guidance and must stop.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said the use of temporary permits outside national guidance was “compounding the problem” of inefficiencies in the force’s processes.

She added: “The mass shooting in Plymouth was a tragic event. My thoughts remain with the victims and their families, and everyone in the local community who was affected.

“Since 2021, Devon and Cornwall Police has made significant improvements across its firearms licensing department. However, issues remain with its licences backlog and misuse of temporary permits. We are pleased the force is in the process of developing a plan to address these issues.

“The changes the force has made are already making a positive impact on its performance and will go a long way to further improving its firearms licensing practices.

“This is absolutely vital to ensure that gun licences are issued correctly, thereby protecting the public and reducing the risk of tragic events like the one in Plymouth ever happening again.”

As of May 2023, Devon and Cornwall Police had responsibility for the largest number of firearms licences of all forces in England and Wales.

Ms Williams said: “Many of the recommendations from the IOPC and comments from the coroner’s report relate to national issues. These are beyond the remit of the force and the scope of this review.

“We will be conducting a national thematic inspection of firearms licensing in 2024.

“Devon and Cornwall Police will form part of this inspection, and we look forward to seeing any further progress it has made.”

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