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If the country’s largest police force cannot vet its own firearms officers properly, how can the shooting community trust the police to vet us?

Shocking revelations have come to light about sex crimes committed by police — and these are the people responsible for firearms licensing, says Alasdair Mitchell

police officers

Every so often, a political commentator will bewail the way certain institutions — the Army, judiciary, church or whatever — fail to reflect the composition of society at large. Traditionally, my reaction has been to give thanks that they don’t. Do we really want soldiers who are grossly overweight, as so much of the UK population is? And when it comes to the police, we certainly don’t want them to reflect society in having the same proportion of criminals, do we?

However, in light of recent events, I may have to eat my words. A former officer with the Metropolitan Police has recently been exposed as one of the country’s most prolific sex offenders, with a history of violence against women that goes back decades.

Despite numerous complaints and credible allegations over many years, the officer passed vetting and was entrusted with a semi-automatic firearm. In the aftermath of the revelations, the Met is reviewing 1,633 cases involving 1,071 officers. Sheesh.

The police are the people who run civilian firearms licensing. And firearms licensing, as we all know, is not working very well in Northern Ireland and large parts of England and Wales. Scotland is a notable exception to the general tale of woe. (Read more on firearm licensing problems here.)

How can the shooting community trust the police to vet us?

If the country’s largest police force cannot even vet its own firearms officers properly, how can we in the shooting community trust the police to vet us? Moreover, when the police get things wrong, to whom can we turn? As I have highlighted before, in practice there is no effective way of holding errant chief constables to account. Even if you have enough money to go to court on a firearms licensing issue and win, you almost certainly won’t recover your costs.

The courts don’t want the police to be discouraged from upholding public safety. How’s that for a perverse consequence? It is the same lack of accountability that allows some chief constables to starve their licensing function of resources. And that undermines public safety.

Irrefutable evidence

BASC’s recent submission to the Home Affairs Committee  echoes with the steady, repetitive thunk of one nail after another being hit squarely on the head. BASC has compiled irrefutable evidence of how and why the current system is failing. Various sensible recommendations are made, including the establishment of a universal service standard and an independent regulator to act as a backstop.

Confused Starmer?

But politicians tend to take the easy way out, which often means diverting the blame. Sir Keir Starmer, in the wake of a drive-by shooting in his London constituency, told radio listeners he thinks there may be a case for yet more restrictions on lawfully held firearms. He seems confused about the difference between legal and illegal guns. And this from a lawyer and former director of public prosecutions, who may soon be prime minister.