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Firearms policing faces ‘safety risk’ from cutbacks

A former police firearms licensing manager has expressed concerns that budget cuts across the UK’s constabularies could seriously compromise the efficiency and safety of firearms policing.

Former firearms licensing manager with Essex Police Mick Fidgeon whose post was axed last week as part of a cost cutting drive told Shooting Times magazine: “The problem is that Essex police alone is having to make cuts of £48million and firearms officers who are mostly civilians are often not classed as frontline operational staff by people who don’t understand what they do and think therefore that they are expendable.”

“For this reason we foresee drastic cuts to firearms teams across the country.”

“Until last week Essex Police was considering cutting a third of its firearms licensing team including four enquiry officers and two clerks. My post as team manager has already been cut. The force is still considering scrapping face-to-face interviews for some renewals.”

“If the slack is taken up by untrained police officers, shooters will feel the impact. Firearms law is very complex and an understanding of gameshooting and regular contact with shooters is vital in dealing with both applications and any incidents that occur.”

Firearms officers effectively act as legal advisors to police officers for multiple aspects of firearms law. It is feared that without their expertise, licence holders are more likely to fall foul of ignorance on the part of the authorities.

There is also the issue of public safety.

Concerns have been raised that if resources are taken out of the process of vetting firearms applicants it risks unsuitable people being granted certificates.

Mike Yardley, spokesman for the Shooting Sports Trust, expressed dismay at the prospect of cuts. “It’s the shooting community which has most to lose from this. If someone slips through the net, and God forbid we have another mass shooting incident, we will all suffer for it through tighter restrictions on firearms law.”

“It is in our interests for shooting groups to state in public their unequivocal support of the licensing process, particularly enquiry officers’ face to face visits, and that it would be against the public interest to reduce the service.”

BASC’s Simon Clarke also voiced concern about budget restrictions.

He said: “Licensing departments may look like tempting targets for the axe but police forces should be aware that public confidence in licensing is critical as is a quick and efficient service for users.”

Essex Police has currently withdrawn the proposal to axe any further jobs in firearms licensing. Whether it decides to revisit the proposed cuts in the future remains to be seen.

A spokesman for the Force issued the following statement: “Essex Police has decided to retain the current arrangement of visiting all members of the public who are seeking the renewal of firearm and shotgun certificates for the time being.”

“Senior officers have decided to take more time to consider the alternatives (including not visiting all those who are seeking renewals of their certificate when it is risk assessed as suitable to do so). In considering the alternatives the safety of the public shall be paramount.”