Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 230 - 239)




  230. Good morning, Mr Degenhard.
  (Mr Degenhard) Would it be in order for me to read out some notes which I made last night as a prompt which focus directly on your brief?

  231. Let us see where we get to with the questioning because you may get an opportunity during the questioning to do it. If not, tell me at the end.
  (Mr Degenhard) Fair enough.

Mrs Dean

  232. You believe that all air weapons should be the subject of licensing.
  (Mr Degenhard) We do.

  233. How would your proposals for licensing and certification of air weapons and their users be applied to the estimated four million that are already in circulation?
  (Mr Degenhard) This is an estimation. I simply do not know how that would be handled in the early stages, but just because it is a big job does not make us believe it should not be attempted.

  234. How reasonable is it to expect the police to enforce a new licensing regime in retrospect on this scale?
  (Mr Degenhard) I presume there could be a suspended commencement date incorporated in any proposal.

  235. In your view, would proper enforcement of existing laws on the possession and use of air weapons have the same effect? It has been suggested that if the law was enforced as it stands then you could have the same effect as licensing. Would you accept that?
  (Mr Degenhard) I think in an ideal world that could be the case, but we have some 330 RSPCA inspectors who see this at the sharp end. We are picking the animals up either immediately after a shot or sometimes several days or weeks after they are shot having suffered meanwhile. We are aware of a survey which was carried out by the Cats Protection League in 1996 and approximately 1,300 vets in Great Britain were surveyed and at the end of that year their returns showed that 74 per cent of those vets received animals which had suffered as a result of air gun pellets. The total number of cats, in particular, which were affected through Great Britain in 1996 was listed as 10,300 and something. We know that our statistics round about that time fall far far short. We are in the dozens by way of prosecutions and perhaps the police have not got a tremendous amount more than that and we are wondering why there should be the shortfall. It is our experience that these matters go unreported. Vets do not report them to us. There are situations which we know of where neighbours are not willing to report because they do not want to fall out with their neighbours and the situation where adults are protecting juveniles. Based on real life experience, we do not think that any attempt to apply the current law is going to help any more than it has done in the past.

  236. You say that new ballistics technology enables specific air weapons to be traced from the evidence of fired pellets. Is that technology in use at present in the UK?
  (Mr Degenhard) It is. We have used it. It costs between £400 and £600 for the forensic laboratory check on air gun pellets. In most cases where we have proceeded on not guilty pleas it has been necessary. The big problem we have is the anonymity behind which a lot of air gun owners hide because there is no traceability. We suspect that a .177 or .22 air gun pellet may relate to someone in the neighbourhood, but there is no record of people in the neighbourhood who have got them, especially the low powered weapons that are not registered. It puts us at a tremendous disadvantage when we are trying to pursue these matters.

  237. But there have been successful prosecutions, have there not?
  (Mr Degenhard) Yes. I have done a quick poll round the inspectorate over the last three weeks and we are talking of something in the region of 50 to 60 in 1999 taken by the RSPCA and many of those have relied on police checks, but that is when we have had sufficiently good evidence from dependable witnesses. It is in those areas where there are gaps and we have to trace the gun that the ballistics check becomes absolutely essential.

  238. Can you tell us how many prosecutions you bring involving crossbows?
  (Mr Degenhard) I was not prepared to be asked that question. It is a few a year.

  239. Not as many as you just mentioned for air guns.
  (Mr Degenhard) No.

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