Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 87 - 99)



  Chairman: Good morning, Mr Greenwood. I am sorry for the delay, but, as you know, we were late starting. Mr Winnick.

Mr Winnick

  87. May I begin, Mr Greenwood, by thanking you for your lengthy but very informative paper, which you must have taken a tremendous amount of trouble to produce, and I, for one, and I am sure the same is true of my colleagues, am grateful to you. You, Mr Greenwood, take the view that is expressed on page 32, Part I, that the real problems and the real danger to society remain unaddressed, regarding firearms; what are these real problems to which you refer?

  (Mr Greenwood) I think, Sir, they have been touched on but not dealt with. The fact is that crime is committed with illegally-held firearms, almost exclusively, and we can demonstrate that with the figures that the Home Office have finally produced about homicide, which show that legally-held firearms are used in only a very small proportion of domestic homicides, they are never used in gang warfare, we can also conclude that they are never used in robbery, because robbery is, as it were, a graduate offence. There have been an awful lot of studies, people move to robbery, you do not start a criminal career by committing an armed robbery at a bank, you graduate to that; by the time you get to that point you are a prohibited person. It follows that the vast majority of firearms used in robbery are illegally-held firearms, and their availability is well demonstrated, when you begin to look at some of the sources of firearms used in crime. I do not actually mention it, but it occurred to me, listening to the other evidence, many years ago Mr McVicar was on the run from Durham Gaol, he is now a criminologist, of course, and a respectable person; whilst he was on the run he earned his living as a gun-minder, he had 90 firearms when he was arrested and he was hiring them out for other people to use in crime. None of those firearms were or ever had been legally held. An Inspector in the Metropolitan Police did a survey of firearms recovered after robbery, went through to the laboratory, looked at each firearm, looked at all the records; none of them had been legally held. So the effect which further legislation would have on public safety is minute.

  88. Hamilton did have a legal certificate, and which you deal with, but then, of course, you refute the argument that the laws which have since been passed were necessary after Dunblane?
  (Mr Greenwood) I say, very clearly, Sir, that the laws that then existed were treated in the most cavalier fashion by Central Scotland Police. I have produced for you the evidence[1]; now, clearly, I am not in a position to re-interview all the witnesses. It was not addressed by Lord Cullen, but Hamilton applied for a firearms certificate on the basis of membership of a club; he was never a member of that club, and if he had been that club was not a club authorised to use the type of weapon which he acquired. And he did that systematically, time after time after time.


  89. Was it never picked up?
  (Mr Greenwood) It was never picked up by the police, and never picked up by Lord Cullen. Cullen talks, "Oh, at this time he was probably a member of such and such a club, and might have been a member..." For a person to be granted a firearms certificate for target-shooting, it is normal to have to prove that you are an active member of a particular club which is authorised to use that class of weapon; it was not done at all, as far as the evidence shows, none of that was ever done. He was given a .270 stalking rifle when he was not a member of a club which used those rifles; he was given full-bore pistols, on the basis of being a member of a club which used a range under a police station, which was certified only for .22 pistols. There is a massive area of the Cullen Inquiry about which there is something seriously wrong. If a person like Hamilton gets the idea that he can do what he wants, he will get any sort of firearm he asks for, we start on step one of the progress towards that tragedy.

Mr Winnick

  90. You refer to, and use the word more than once, "hysteria", Mr Greenwood, as being the public and parliamentary reaction after the terrible tragedy at Dunblane. Do you really think the word "hysteria" is justified?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes, I do; because a problem was exposed, not for the first time—

  91. Exposed, or exploited?
  (Mr Greenwood) Exposed; the problem was exposed by the tragedy itself, not for the first time. There was an immediate assumption that the solution lay in an inanimate object, and it was impossible to get anybody, and, with great respect, I have to say, politicians in particular, to look rationally, it was impossible to get Lord Cullen to look rationally, at what I believed to be the most important aspect. Because this sort of tragedy appears to be a new phenomenon, probably dating from the 1960s; such incidents before that are so rare, there was one in New Zealand in 1949, which is explicable, they are so rare as to be something that you could not put a handle on. Now, they have become so common. Nobody has bothered, nobody has bothered to ask why this has become a problem, why have we now got the phenomenon of the amok killer, the single-incident mass killer, not just in this country, not just in America, all over the world; and there are some answers which bear on what was being said about police intelligence, it is very incomplete. And I do not advance it as an answer, but one of the things common to all these killers, that I have looked at, is a peculiar relationship with the mother; they are loners, and it is not just one or two of them, it is most of them. Now I am not suggesting that everybody who has a peculiar relationship with his mother is going to be a mass killer, but it does point out, to me, that a proper scientific study of the problem would isolate factors that the police should be looking at when they are granting firearm certificates or shotgun certificates. It is not beyond the bound of possibility to say not that we could have identified Hamilton in advance, or Ryan, or any of the others, but that we could have been provided with some sort of framework; nobody has even tried to do that. I think that is the real problem.

  92. Does that mean, Mr Greenwood, that you are in favour of greater use of intelligence systems, within and between police forces, to check on the suitability of applicants?
  (Mr Greenwood) I would be in favour of the introduction of intelligence systems.

  93. You would be?
  (Mr Greenwood) Well, if we look, in 1991, a Superintendent from Devon and Cornwall did a study, and we have heard mention about the renewal period, it has been suggested that it should be taken back down from five to three; that assumes that people become criminal, or insane, at regular, three-yearly or five-yearly intervals, that certainly cannot be true. Both Campbell Beattie and Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary checked up, the HMI found that in 12 police forces he inspected one of them had a system where a person arrested for robbery was notified to the firearms department; the rest of them just allow the system to continue that the officer in the case will probably remember. Probably more important still, legally-held firearms are used mostly in domestic homicide, and that sort of crime, man shoots his wife, it usually is the man who shoots his wife but not always, women have more subtle methods.

Mr Howarth

  94. Name them?
  (Mr Greenwood) I dare not, Sir. No domestic killing is an isolated incident. There has been an awful lot of research, again, in this field; it starts with domestic disputes, it then develops to something more than that. There is no system for reporting these incidents to the firearms department. The number of people with whom the firearms department deal who are "suspect" is minute, one or two in each department, who might be borderline cases, but there is no system for passing through this intelligence to one central point in relation to the holding of firearms so that it can be analysed by somebody who, hopefully, has done some research into what the problem is; because everybody who falls out with his wife is not going to kill her next.

Mr Winnick

  95. Mr Greenwood, you have, of course, a close interest in firearms, you were, in fact, an adviser, were you not, to a previous Home Affairs Committee?
  (Mr Greenwood) I was, Sir.

  96. And for 16 years you were the editor, am I not right, of Guns Review?
  (Mr Greenwood) That is correct.

  97. And would I be right in saying, and looking, for example, on page 25 of Part II of your very informative paper, you seem to come to the view that the imposition of controls on firearms is undesirable; paragraph 94: "There has yet to be a single follow-up study" sentence? Would that not indicate that, by and large, with some exceptions, as you have just indicated, on checking up on applicants, you believe that the imposition of controls, the more recent after Dunblane, and before, served no really useful public service?
  (Mr Greenwood) The imposition of controls, in the manner that they have been imposed in this country, by this Parliament, has been largely a waste of time, because—

  98. I am sorry to interrupt; not just the more recent legislation but before as well?
  (Mr Greenwood) There has been no logical legislation on firearms; every piece of legislation has been in the immediate aftermath of some tragedy or other, at a time when thinking was not the top priority. And so I look at the figures for all crimes, I look at the system of controls, I look at the forced reduction in the number of people permitted to shoot, and if you care to do a graph of something like armed robbery, and numbers of firearm and shotgun certificates, you will see they produce a cross; as the number of legitimate firearms owners goes down, the use of firearms in crime goes up, and the two things are not correlated in any shape or form. And, if you look at the figures for robbery, we have seen what can be done, because it has been done by Commander Penrose and the crime squads, and so on, who, since 1993, have produced a massive reduction in the use of firearms in robbery, not by imposing further controls but by a campaign of targeting the criminals who were using firearms. And it is the only time this century that the use of firearms in crime has fallen, and the figure that was quoted over here, of a 2.5 per cent reduction in the use of pistols in crime, is merely a continuum of that reduction and not in any way related to the 1997 Act.

  99. But your philosophical viewpoint, Mr Greenwood, which you have explained in your paper, a historical study of firearms, is that, basically, there is a right of people, private individuals, to hold firearms?
  (Mr Greenwood) You misread what I have said was the case.

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