An independent investigation has been launched after police returned guns to a man who then shot his partner and her daughter
Three officers are under investigation for gross misconduct for returning seven shotguns to a man who then shot his partner and her daughter, Surrey Police has confirmed. The force is also reviewing all its decisions to return revoked shotgun and firearms certificates over the past three years.
John Lowe was convicted of murdering his partner Christine Lee and her daughter Lucy Lee on a puppy farm in Surrey in February 2014.
Lowe’s guns were taken from him in March 2013 after Stacey Banner, another daughter of Christine Lee, told police he threatened to kill her. Banner’s complaint was withdrawn and the guns were handed back in July of the same year.
Lowe claimed the deaths were “a terrible accident”, but was found guilty of murder at Guildford Crown Court on 29 October. He was also convicted of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
“Two women have tragically lost their lives, and their family and friends deserve to know the circumstances in which the guns were returned to Mr Lowe,” said IPCC Commissioner Jennifer Izekor. “It also is in the interests of the wider public that Surrey Police’s decision making in these circumstances is independently scrutinised.”
After Lowe’s arrest earlier this year, the police’s previous contact with him was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which led a supervised investigation into the matter. The IPCC “identified potential gross misconduct issues” and has launched an independent investigation. “Surrey police has already issued misconduct notices to three Surrey police staff members,” said the IPCC in a statement.
The findings of the investigation indicated that the decision to return the guns to Lowe was flawed and didn’t meet national standards, explained Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Cundy of Surrey Police.
“We have already taken steps to ensure that our firearms licensing policy and procedures are in line with national best practice,” he said. “We are also instigating the recommendations that the two independent reports made to us and are reviewing all cases where firearms licenses and firearms have been removed and subsequently returned to licence holders over the last three years.”
The IPCC investigation will also consider allegations that Lowe hired a hitman in the 1990s. A police informant told the Guardian that Lowe had approached him in 1997 with a view to arranging for someone to kill his partner at the time. The informant claimed that he had passed the information on to a different Police squad and was told that Surrey Police had been informed too.
He said: “From what I reported, he should not have been in possession of a gun licence since the late 1990s.”
After the trial, Banner spoke of how the shootings had left her heartbroken and called for changes to firearms licensing. She said: “John Lowe pulled the trigger but it was Surrey Police that put the gun in his hand.
“Licensing cannot be left entirely up to the police. There need to be thorough and regular multi-agency assessments for would-be gun-holders. And the cost of a shotgun licence needs to be significantly increased.”