Firearms licencing: Police bad practice
As I’ve discovered, police forces are sometimes guilty of applying silly conditions to firearms certificates – and none more so than the bobbies at West Mercia.
Several readers wrote in when I highlighted some of the farcical conditions being placed on FAC’s by a force that polices Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Telford and Wrekin.
In fact the experiences of two readers are particularly illuminating.
It seems that bad practice in West Mercia goes well beyond silly conditions. Derek Podmore of Oswestry received his reminder letter in March 2011.
He sent off his forms and his cheque was cashed on May 25.
His certificate expired on June 6 but he didn’t get a replacement.
In July he phoned to ask what was going on but received neither a certificate nor a satisfactory answer.
In early September he received a letter from Superintendent Purcell saying the licensing department was experiencing the busiest renewal period it had ever encountered and he urged patience.
They weren’t that busy because three days later the Superintendent sent out an identical letter and some of Derek’s friends also reported receiving two letters.
The reminder letter was interesting for two reasons.
First, it required the applicant to send in his expiring certificate – yet the police have absolutely NO RIGHT in law to make such a demand.
Doing so is a serious breach of the trust that should exist between the police and the general public.
In fact there are good reasons for not sending in an expiring certificate, namely:
» The certificate holder cannot buy ammunition.
» He cannot buy or sell a gun.
» He cannot take a gun to be serviced or repaired nor collect one that is being serviced at the time his application is made.
» He cannot produce a certificate if stopped by a constable so risks having his guns confiscated.
» If he moves into a different area he may encounter problems due to lack of a certificate.
Worse still was the sentence buried further down the letter from West Mercia which read: “There will be no need to store your weapons elsewhere should your renewal be delayed”.
Truth is, other than some short term exemptions, being in possession of a firearm or shotgun without a certificate is what is known as a strict liability offence.
That is to say there are no ifs or buts about, you’re guilty.
The penalty is a minimum five years in jail.
A chief officer can exempt someone from the need to have a certificate but he can only do so by issuing a permit under Section 7 of the Firearms Act.
Most police forces will tell you that a Section 7 permit requires almost as much effort as issuing a certificate.
A permit contains only the holder’s name and address, a list of the guns concerned and a start and finish date to tide an applicant over whilst his certificate is being renewed.
With modern technology it can be generated in a few minutes by the press of a key on the computer.
No photographs, visits or enquiries are needed.
Chief Constable Shaw
I wrote what I hoped was a helpful letter to Chief Constable Shaw, raising the issue of the unlawful demand of the expiring certificate and more particularly the decision to allow certificate holders to hang on to their guns illegally.
I pointed out that he was not merely condoning people being in unlawful possession, he was actively encouraging it.
In doing that I suspect he may himself be guilty of an offence. I expected a reply, if not from CC Shaw himself, then at least from his deputy or the responsible ACC.
However my letter clearly caused some embarrassment so the unfortunate Superintendent Purcell was tasked with replying to it.
His letter was a masterpiece; indeed in my own time as a bureaucrat dealing with difficult issues I seldom did better myself.
It covered a lot of ground but dodged all the key issues such as the unlawful demand for the expiring certificate or the encouragement to be in unlawful possession.
His explanation for the farcical FAC conditions was weak.
On the plus side he asked the licensing department to give Derek Podmore’s application a high priority.
In spite of that, Derek still doesn’t have his certificates – six months after the old ones expired.
I subsequently had a long conversation with Superintendent Purcell who has been tasked by his Chief Constable with undertaking an objective and comprehensive review of the licensing process.
I started by reading him an email from reader Oliver Stimpson who lives in Powys. Oliver is clearly very happy with the service provided by Dyfed-Powys police and contrasted it unfavourably with that given to his friends in nearby West Mercia.
‘Farcical and vindictive’ were the words Oliver used to describe West Mercia.
The Superintendent struck me as being a decent and conscientious individual who’s been given a difficult job.
He hopes to have his review completed and the backlog cleared no later than next April. Watch this space!
TELL US ABOUT IT!
If you have had good or bad service from your firearms’ licensing department do please write in and tell us your experiences.
And if you asked your shooting organisation to help with any problems we’d like to know how well they did for you.
David Frost is the author of Sporting Shooting and the Law, the tenth edition of which has recently been published and can be ordered online from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.
P.O. Box 157