Firearms Control - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-220)

ASSISTANT CHIEF CONSTABLE SUE FISH, PAUL JAMES AND MATT LEWIS

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 précis?

  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 own them.

  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 communities.

  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 collusion—almost a sinister or shady relationship—between 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 that accusation?

  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 firing—does 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 in colour.

  

  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 doing this?

  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.

  Q219  Bridget 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 pose.   

  Q220  Bridget Phillipson: On the issue of CS gas weapons, what action are you taking in regard to that?

  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.


 
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