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Whitehaven probe clears police licensing procedures

The review of Cumbria police?s gun licensing procedures prompted by the Whitehaven shootings was published last week.

It found that the constabulary followed the legal procedures correctly in granting Derrick Bird certificates for a side-by-side hammerlock shotgun and a .22 rifle which he used to shoot his victims and concluded that no reasonable opportunities within the gun licensing system could have prevented him from killing 12 people.

In his review, the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, (ACPO) Firearms and Licensing Working Group Adrian Whiting wrote: The details of these circumstances do not give rise to any immediately obvious changes that need to be made either in Cumbria Constabulary or in law, such as would have readily prevented the offences from being committed.

However, he went on to suggest a number of changes that may usefully improve public safety overall.

Mr Whiting recommended that people who receive wholly suspended sentences of jail terms of three months or more would in future be automatically classed as a prohibited person and banned from holding a gun licence for five years.

In 1990, Derrick Bird was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, after he was convicted of two counts of theft and one count of handling stolen goods.

Mr Whiting wrote: I cannot say it would have made a difference in this case, but it would have been another significant factor to take into account.

He also suggested that a formal requirement could be put in place for doctors to be notified of an application for grant or renewal of a licence. Currently, they do not hold that information unless the patient volunteers it.

Mr Whiting put forward the proposal that police make a formal inquiry of family members of an applicant regarding their suitability.

Finally, he proposed operating a single certificate for both firearms and shotguns.

The Countryside Alliance?s David Taylor said: ?As the UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, it is without surprise that the report finds nothing could have been done to prevent the tragic incidents in Cumbria. It is also encouraging that the report admits that medical tagging and increased controls on shotgun ammunition would not prevent a similar situation. The CA will continue to work with police and other shooting organisations to ensure that any proposed changes to policy are not knee-jerk reactions and do not unfairly burden legitimate licence holders.?

BASC has adopted a similarly positive response.

Its director of firearms Bill Harriman said: ?ACPO?s recommendations are simply a wish list, there is no guarantee that they will become law. The Government is not obliged to implement them. All of the facts in the Cumbria shootings have yet to be established and published; and Parliament has not even debated the issue. We are a long way away from any changes to the law even if the government is minded to legislate at all.?

Last week Jude Talbot, the daughter of Michael Pike, who was shot dead by Bird, told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, reviewing firearm controls: ?We should not have guns kept in a dwelling. I see no reason why they can?t be kept in a gun club. I don?t think we should be keeping things that kill and maim in a residential area.?