Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-220)|
ASSISTANT CHIEF CONSTABLE SUE FISH, PAUL JAMES AND
16 NOVEMBER 2010
Q200 Chair: Good morning,
ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming to speak
to the Select Committee. You have asked for this first part of
your evidence to be in private, and we have agreed to that. Could
you tell us why?
Sue Fish: Yes, Chairman. The knowledge
that we'll be providing to you today is based on intelligence
that predominantly comes from the National Ballistics Intelligence
Service and other law enforcement and police forces across the
UK. We want to share that with you, because we know that it will
help you with your deliberations. Some of the matters are sub
judice, and some are extremely sensitive, given the nature of
the cases that we might want to discuss with you.
Q201 Chair: And how would
you like this note to appear when we publish the report? As a
Sue Fish: My understanding is
that we will be consulted to ensure that a redacted version is
appropriate for wider public dissemination.
Q202Chair: I am going to talk to you,
first of all, about deactivated weapons. On what evidence do you
base your recommendations to bring pre-1995 deactivated firearms
in line with the 1995 standard and to consider a licensing or
registration scheme for deactivated weapons?
Matt Lewis: Chairman, if I may
deal with the issue of deactivated firearms. The pre-1995 specification
of deactivated firearms is an issue that has been talked about
for some period of time. We have become aware of a change in criminal
activity related to pre-1995 deactivated firearms.
Q203 Chair: Why were attempts
by the previous Government to tighten controls in that area opposed
by the shooting lobby?
Matt Lewis: It is very difficult
for us to go back in time and discuss what was done under a previous
Administration. Certainly, NABIS wasn't established at that point
in time, so perhaps they weren't offered the evidence base that
we are able to offer you today. We understand that there are a
large number of pre-1995 deactivated firearms in private collections
and that they hold a significant value for the individuals who
Q204 Mr Winnick: One of our
witnesses, Professor Squires, argued that, rather than wait for
each new weapon type to surface on the streets, a more proactive
and preventive response is called for. Do any of the witnesses
take the view that that should be so?
Sue Fish: Certainly, with blank-firing
weapons, we think that is essential. It was set out in statute
in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, that a specification
should be formed around blank-firing weapons, so that they were
less able to be converted to be live firers. That has not yet
taken place, and it is a great concern to ACPO that there has
not been speedy progress on that.
Working with the gun trade earlier this year,
we took some action around a blank-firing weapon, manufactured
by Bruni in Italy, but specified solely for the UK market, apparently
to comply with what was required here. That was deemed readily
convertible and had been used across the country, but predominantly
in London, to cause very serious harm to individuals and therefore
Q205 Mr Winnick: When you
say "no progress" what is stopping progress? The previous
Government, the present Government or what?
Sue Fish: It is hard for me as
ACPO to say. My sense was that it was not a priority.
Q206 Mr Winnick: That is what
Ministers were saying: is that the case?
Sue Fish: I think probably officials.
I am not sure that Ministers were cited on that.
Q207 Mr Winnick: If I can
get the position clear, Assistant Chief Constable, you would like
Ministers to recognise that this is a matter of some urgency.
Sue Fish: Absolutely.
Q208 Mr Clappison: Could you
say a little more about your concerns about shotgun theft? What
is your evidence that shotgun licence holders have been targeted?
Sue Fish: We were made aware of
a rise in shotgun thefts, particularly in the Metropolitan Police
area, earlier this year. As a result, we did some national analysis
to understand that problem. There is little evidence of targeted
thefts. None the less, it is my view that the majority of shotgun
holders are not in high burglary areas, so it is very much an
opportunist act, stealing property once thieves are in a dwelling.
Q209 Mr Clappison: One incident
in Gwent apparently accounted for a large proportion of shotgun
thefts. Can you tell us what happened there?
Q214 Mr Burley: It's fair
to say that we have had conflicting evidence about this targeting
of legitimate owners. We have had, if you like, the anti-gun lobby
come and tell us that people are absolutely being targeted for
their guns, and we have had evidence from people such as yourself
and the pro-gun lobby saying they are not. I have to admit I am
confused where the truth lies.
One of the proposals from the anti-gun lobby
was that all registered owners should be made public in the form
of an online database that is readily accessible to the public
so that people can know who is keeping shotguns legitimately.
The point I put to the anti-gun lobby is that if they were saying
that people were being targeted, surely such a database would
only make the targeting process easier for criminals. Do you have
any thoughts on that proposal?
Sue Fish: I have to say ACPO has
a view, and I have a view, that it depends what you want it for.
I think the unintended consequences that you outline are very
real. The wider points about understanding who owns a shotgun
and being able to appropriately approach a licensing authority
or a doctor with concerns around the welfare and the suitability
of an individual to hold a firearm are slightly different. I am
not sure they will be well served by a public database.
Q215 Mr Burley: The other
point the anti-gun lobby made on that was they felt there was
some kind of collusionalmost a sinister or shady relationshipbetween
gun owners and the police to keep this information covered up,
and they wanted it out in the open. Do you have any comments on
Sue Fish: I'm not entirely sure
it is worthy of comment, frankly. I think it is absolutely laughable.
Chair: That is very helpful.
Q216 Dr Huppert: I have a
slightly more open question. I would be interested to understand
more about the process by which imitation firearms become more
of a concern. Can you tell us a bit about how people can change
an imitation firearm into one that can be fired? What is that
process, how easy is it and how prevalent is it?
Matt Lewis: I will just draw on
our experience that we have with the Olympic BBM, which was an
imitation blank firing weapon. They were readily available, and
you could purchase them
Q217 Dr Huppert: Imitation
blank firingdoes that mean it did not actually fire blanks?
Matt Lewis: It fired blanks, but
it is classed as an imitation blank firer. It is not realistic
because it has a primary colour, as per the Violent Crime Reduction
Act 2006. If you look at the Olympic BBMs, they will be orange
Q218 Dr Huppert: If I can
just understand what you would like the situation to be, is it
that legislation could prevent this from happening or that legislation
is needed in order to appropriately punish the people who are
Sue Fish: There are a range of
issues. First, I have already talked about the specification,
which is really important. The second issue relates to a type
approval process to make sure that new weapons coming into the
market, or indeed, modifications by the manufacturer, can stay
in tune and in keeping. The third point I'd like to make is about
tools. We need to change the legislation around the tools that
are available, because the wording currently reflects an age that
simply doesn't exist any longer.
Phillipson: Why do you believe that current offences governing
the importation and supply of firearms are inadequate? Will you
also comment on whether you are concerned about British soldiers
bringing guns back from conflicts abroad?
Paul James: Certainly, on the
situation with British soldiers, we are not seeing any widespread
evidence at all of weapons that have come back from theatres of
war being used in crime. The forces work very closely with us
in relation to this. There have been a couple of odd incidents.
However, as far as criminal usage of arms is concerned, there
has been no evidence to suggest that it is a significant problem.
On importation offences and also, the offences
of possession with intent to supply a weapon, which we have a
very strong view about, legislation is currently very limited
in relation to people bringing guns into the country. Offences
that are committed at the moment carry a maximum 10-year sentence.
If you look at sentences for bringing drugs into the country,
they do not show the same degree of harm. We feel that the sentence
should represent the serious harm that these weapons actually
Q220 Bridget Phillipson: On
the issue of CS gas weapons, what action are you taking in regard
Matt Lewis: I'm happy to cover
CS. Certainly from the point of view of the National Ballistics
Intelligence Service, CS sprays are not something that we necessarily
deal with on a day-to-day basis. One thing we do as part of ACPO
CUF and NABIS is to work closely with partners such as the UK
Border Agency on trying to target certain things like CS sprays,
as well as Taser devices, on the grounds that, yes, they are dangerous
and prohibited weapons, but sometimes, they can also be a precursor
to other things.
Chair: Well, we might come and visit
before the Committee is completed. We will now go into open session.