Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Note by Chief Superintendent Kevin Degenhard for the evidence session on 14 December 1999


    —  Criminal statistics relating to firearms used to abuse animals do not reflect the magnitude of the problem. A survey of 1,300 veterinary surgeons carried out by the Cats Protection League in 1996 concluded that 74 per cent had treated cats for air gun pellet wounds and that 10,390 cats had been shot that year in Great Britain. While the RSPCA only extends coverage to England and Wales a typical year results in up to 60 investigations with a view to prosecution for such offences. Many are never reported. We, and the police, only see the tip of the iceberg.

    —  Regarding each animal as a single statistic is also misleading as many animals are shot several times due to the lower power of thousands of common air weapons. I have seen an X-ray of a cat shot 11 times with air weapon pellets and the animal survived. We have evidence of a dog shot in the head with a similar weapon 12 times and of a hedgehog shot through both eyes and the anus before it died. We have further evidence of a cat tied into the crucifix position and shot several times with an air weapon before it died. All these animals suffered extensively prior to death.

    —  The low noise emission of these weapons suits them to clandestine use whereas special conditions would have to be applied to the certificate holder of Section (1) and Section (5) firearms held under the Firearms Act 1968 to make those weapons equally quiet.

    —  The commonest domestic animal harmed in this way appears to be the cat. Each time it is done there is either an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 or killing without suffering may occasionally create an offence under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. As most offences occur in built up areas we should ask ourselves why so few convictions. There are an enormous number of air weapons in circulation and the best guess is that over a million are not certificated. It was only comparatively recently that forensic ballistic science has been able to prove which weapon fired which pellet but this is only part of the equation to successful prosecution. It is often of little use without police having records of people holding such firearms in the neighbourhood. This can only be achieved through certification otherwise it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The majority of complaints received involved people younger than 18.

    —  Not only would certification help the police trace offenders, more importantly, it would provide the deterrent of traceability in stead of assured anonymity.

    —  A minimum age of 18 and proof of competence should be established.

    —  All firearm holders should show good cause for holding each firearm.

    —  Where each firearm may be used and for which specific purpose should be defined.

    —  Certification to achieve traceability and accountability should be established.


  The abuse of animals by people using shotguns is less common but where it occurs it usually involves wildlife and game. Such abuse includes disregard for species, taking shots too far away and using insufficiently sized shot to achieve a clean kill. This indicates that not all people using shotguns are competent. We believe proof of competence is required and that the person assessing that competence is subject specific, ideally to a Training and Development Lead Body D32/33 Assessor qualification ensuring objective assessment.

    —  We believe applicants for shotgun certificates should show sufficient cause or need to hold the firearm in the same way as rifle holders have to.

    —  All firearm holders should show good cause for holding each firearm.

    —  Where each firearm may be used and for which specific purpose should be defined.

    —  The types and amount of shotgun cartridges held should be limited to the specific purposes of use specified on the certificate ensuring appropriate size shot is possessed.

    —  Shotgun ammunition should be subject to certification in the same way as rifle ammunition.


    —  A number of people have protested at the proposed surrender of their hand guns under the provisions of the first firearms amendment Act in 1997 on the grounds that they were suitable, and would be used for, the "humane killing of animals". This was the first piece of legislation to use this term and a number of appeals were taken to Crown Court in an endeavour to turn over the police licensing officers decisions to refuse such applications. I gave evidence at three such hearings supporting the police views as to the unsuitableness of such firearms for the use intended by the appellants. In all three cases the Judges found in favour of the police.

    —  It became clear to me that a number of people purporting to be competent in the humane killing of animals were proven to have their judgement discredited in these cases as the weapons and proposed methods were clearly inappropriate. I feel that the words "competent person" should describe the person using the firearms within Section (3) of this Act.

    —  All RSPCA Inspectors undergo training, both theoretical and practical, using a captive bolt stunner under strict supervision on cattle in an abattoir and in the field before they graduate to using a single shot .32 humane slaughter pistol. Following this they undergo refresher training twice a year and have to comply with strict RSPCA protocols on security, safety and humaneness. Similar standards should apply to all who undertake this responsibility to ensure competence is achieved and maintained.

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