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Force had insufficient firearms licensing staff inquest told

Chief Superintendent Roy Linden told an inquest that staff were already struggling to cope with the backlog in 2017 when Jake Davison applied for a shotgun certificate.

Devon and Cornwall Police did not have enough staff to deal with the number of new firearms applications and renewals being sought at the time Jake Davison applied for a shotgun certificate, an inquest has heard.

In August 2021, Davison killed his mother Maxine following an argument before shooting dead four others during a 12-minute attack in Plymouth.

He applied for a shotgun certificate in July 2017, with this issued for a five-year period by Devon and Cornwall Police the following January.

The force revoked Davison's licence and seized his shotgun in 2020 after he assaulted two teenagers in a park, but both were returned to him just weeks before the killings.

Chief Superintendent Roy Linden told jurors that in 2017, there were 30,588 shotgun certificates holders and 11,132 firearms certificates held in Devon and Cornwall - making it the force with the largest number of certificate holders in the UK.

He said that at this time, there were around 3,000 new applications and renewals sought each year, creating a backlog at the force which has “probably increased now”.

When asked if the force had sufficient staff to deal with that number, Ch Supt Linden replied: “The simple answer is no.”

He also told the inquest there were no records of dip sampling – audits used to check decision-making – in the force's firearms licensing department at the material time.

The inquest heard that Davison declared that he had autism in his application as part of an obligation to disclose any medical conditions.

He also gave consent for his GP to share information with police about his medical history, but they refused to provide an opinion to police on whether he should be issued with a shotgun certificate.

Ch Supt Linden said that the GP’s refusal to provide information was “not rare” at the time, but acknowledged there was no policy in place for what to do when that happened.

Superintendent Adrian Davis, a firearms licencing manager at Warwickshire Police who also gave evidence to the inquest, confirmed there was "no requirement” for GP's to provide information at that time.

Supt Davis also referenced the "high-risk" decision to reissue Davison with his licence after it had been revoked.

“There are high-risk decisions such as if a person has been previously refused or previously revoked," he said.

This decision prompted the Home Secretary to ask forces to review their processes, to assess whether return decisions complied with non-statutory guidance and firearms legislation which asks Chief Officers to ensure high-risk decisions are approved at a sufficiently senior level.

Just eight decisions to return firearms licences were overturned as a result of this review.

However, under new statutory guidance on firearms licensing which came into force in November 2021, firearms licensing departments are now required to conduct ‘open source’ social media checks on applicants’ accounts, review their financial history as well as carry out domestic violence checks in cases where officers believe more evidence is needed before authorising a licence.

The IOPC confirmed last September that, following the conclusion of its investigation into the force, it was to undertake a separate criminal investigation into whether its Chief Constable had committed any offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

It confirmed that this investigation remains ongoing, and is not expected to have concluded by the end of the inquest proceedings.

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