Examination of Witnesses (Questions 225-237)|
ASSISTANT CHIEF CONSTABLE SUE FISH, PAUL JAMES AND
16 NOVEMBER 2010
Chair: Order. This is the penultimate
session in the Committee's inquiry into firearms. Our next session
will take place at 2 pm today when we will take evidence from
the Attorney-General for the District of Columbia, who is in Washington
DC. Could I refer everyone present to the Register of Members'
Financial Interests where the interests of all Members are noted?
Q225 Lorraine Fullbrook: I
would look to explore a bit more the use of firearms in crime.
The Home Office evidence suggests that the vast majority of crimes
involving firearms are carried out with illegally held guns. Given
that information, what do the NABIS data tell us in general terms
about the use of legal firearms in crime?
Matt Lewis: It will be very difficult
for me to describe to you what the current NABIS statistics look
like in terms of the information we gather about what we call
inferred firearms, where we know that that firearm is present
because we have recovered ballistic material that allows us to
know it is there. Certainly if there is anything that would say
that it was a 9 mm calibre weapon, we would expect that item to
be illegally owned, on the grounds that it is the most common
handgun and submachine calibre and therefore we know that it would
be illegal. If we draw our attention to shotguns, we are aware
of a number of shotguns that are currently inferred by NABIS and
we are happy to share that with the Committee in private as a
What is difficult to understand until you recover
that weapon is whether it is legally held or whether it has been
stolen or criminally acquired. We don't suspect that there are
many legally held weapons that are being crossed over and used
in crime and then go back into legal possession. We think it is
much more likely that a shotgun, for example, has been stolen
from a residence and is then shortened and used in crime. We will
then infer it until the point that we recover it.
Q226 Lorraine Fullbrook: So
you would agree that most crimes are committed with illegally
Matt Lewis: The vast majority.
Q227 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just
to go on from that, Professor Squires gave evidence to the Committee
some time ago that he believed that offending by firearms is grossly
under-reflected in the crime figures. Do you think that this is
Sue Fish: We have always said
that there is a certain level that is under-reported, but let
me just break that down. I would be highly surprised if there
were any deaths through the use of firearms that were not known
about. The same with serious injury: when a victim presents himself
at hospital, hospitals are under an obligation to report a shotgun
or firearms injury to the police. So where individuals seek medical
treatment, that is not an issue. There is an issue in terms of
minor injury or where there is a shotgun or a firearm discharged
in a street or a public place that is not reported to us. The
experience of communities is that it is more widespread than recorded
crime allows, but NABIS has enabled us to have a much more coherent
picture of the nature and threat of firearms crime.
Q228 Lorraine Fullbrook: So
in that instance would you talk specifically about airguns, for
Matt Lewis: Not necessarily. Just
in support of Sue's point, yes, there is a clear identification
between those homicide-related crimes which we do get to know
about and other incidents. NABIS has shown us that often those
other incidents use the same firearm that has been used in many
incidents. They are put through a middleman, a person within a
community who will loan or lease a firearm to others and therefore
the impact on the communities is great, but the number of firearms
that are available to criminals is very low. As you will know,
we have made a recommendation around possession with intent to
supply, to directly target those individuals who have a disproportionate
effect on communities because this small number of weapons that
NABIS shows us is being used time and time again is out there.
Q229 Bridget Phillipson: How
do you think we deal with the issue of firearms being used but
because the firearm is not discharged or recovered that is not
then recorded? How do you think that we support police forces
to record that as a firearms-related offence? If the weapon was
used to intimidate or was discharged but didn't cause injury,
would a police force feel confident in recording that as a firearms
offence or would it say, "Well, we couldn't establish if
it was an air weapon or a shotgun?
Sue Fish: Absolutely. The Home
Office counting rules about how we record crime are absolutely
clear. Whether you see a weapon or if the victim perceives that
there is a firearm, it is recorded as a firearms crime. It is
very clear on that.
Q230 Nicola Blackwood: Thank
you for that. The Home Office has given us evidence that intelligence
on firearms has improved considerably since setting up NABIS in
2008. For the benefit of the Committee, could you explain a little
about NABIS's role and give an assessment of the impact that it
has had on the criminal use of firearms?
Paul James: Certainly. NABIS looks
at every crime committed where there is potential to recover a
bullet or cartridge from a crime scene. By recovering those, we
can see the true usage of firearms, because every single crime
and bullet is logged on to a computerised system, so that we can
quickly see whether a weapon used in a crime has been used previously.
It also allows us to show when a gun has been used and on how
many occasions. It perhaps allows us to put into context the number
of firearms in circulation that are being used by criminals.
The picture that is emerging is very much that
there are a small number of weapons out there; handguns are the
major problemblank firing, converted or deactivated weapons.
They are being used on four, five or six different occasions,
and the guns move around the country. NABIS allows us to say how
many weapons have been used. An inferred weapon is a weapon that
we have recovered a bullet or a cartridge from, and we know that
gun is being used criminally within a community. If that gun hasn't
been recovered, it also allows us to do some proactive work to
change the focus on recovering that weapon, targeted intelligence
and other usages.
We have a database built into it, so we not
only provide forces with individual intelligence about crime in
their own force areas, but we deliver both tactical and strategic
products to look at the supply networks. Again, what it's showing
us is that there are very limited supply networks of gunsvery
few people are involvedas opposed to something like the
supply of class A drugs. Far fewer people are involved in the
supply of weapons, which gives us real opportunities by focusing
the intelligence that NABIS enables us to deliver.
Q231 Nicola Blackwood: That's
a slightly different picture from the one that we received from
some of the gun control campaigners we received evidence from.
In particular, Professor Squires has claimed that he finds it
very difficult as a criminologist and researcher to access data
to understand accurately the picture of what is going on with
firearms in the UK. How do you respond to that? Is there a way
in which we can keep sensitive information confidential while
giving a much more accurate picture of what is going on in the
Matt Lewis: The data are extremely
sensitive because it is not only about individual weapons; the
real benefit of NABIS is that it allows us to break into categories
and supply chains of weapons, so where we see a particular supply
of weapons we can take action with partners. In revealing the
statistics and data, in effect, we would be printing a guide either
to convert or to import firearms into the UK, and the methods
and how to do it. It would be very difficult to keep a lid on
what would undoubtedly be a large number of FOI requests saying,
"Please tell us how many inferred assault rifles you have
at the moment". That would be very difficult for us to deal
with at the minute.
We are engaged with various other operations
about various things that are in the public domain. As those trends
and patterns go, I think that we would create more problems for
ourselves in trying to keep a lid on what we are trying to deal
with. Because the issues are so small, we are engaged in a large
number of proactive operations. I would hate to feel that we would
compromise anything that we are doing working with partners such
as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the UK Border Agency and
forces, by saying, "Here are some data that you can analyse".
Q232 Chair: Thank you. What
happens to the seized guns? Where do they go? Is there some great
armoury in the sky that they all disappear to? I don't want the
address, I just want to know roughly.
Sue Fish: If they're part of criminal
proceedings, they're retained, but ultimately they're destroyed.
Q233 Chair: They're destroyed.
So you don't have some in stock that, as soon as a case is over
Sue Fish: We do keep a stock,
particularly of ballistic material, that we use for comparisona
bit like fingerprints. There is a weeding policy.
Q234 Chair: Some of our witnesses
commented on the nature of video games and the fact that they
are getting more violent, and they feel that that results in younger
people, in particular, wanting to participate in shooting. Do
you have any views or knowledge on that?
Sue Fish: I think, as a human
being as much as a police officer, that the two are not incompatible.
My sense is that I find them extremely distasteful, and I cannot
help but feel that they cannot help the situation. The level of
ambient violence, as well as extreme violence, in society today
is a real issue not only in gun crime, but across the whole spectrum
of violent crime. As for the question of whether there any evidence
or any research that indicates that, not that I have been made
Q235 Chair: We are going to
take evidence shortly, but, very quickly, because we have a busy
schedule this morning, what is the one lesson that we should learn
from what happened in Cumbria and Northumbria as far as weapons
Sue Fish: My sense is that you
probably need to ask that question of the chief constable of Cumbria.
Q236 Chair: We are about to,
but I just wondered whether you had any thoughts.
Sue Fish: Which I know you are.
It is taking their views, and we will absolutely understand and
support the recommendations that they have made.
Q237 Lorraine Fullbrook: In
general, do you believe that UK gun control legislation is sufficiently
robust Accepting that we cannot legislate for the tragic incidents
that we see where a switch flicks in somebody, do you believe
that the current legislation is sufficient to control guns in
Sue Fish: In our submission to
you, we have made a number of recommendations, which would require
legislation, so, inherently, the answer has to be no. Is the legislation
fit for purpose? Broadly, but I think there are some real opportunities,
and perhaps the inquiry by this Committee provides one of the
best opportunities to not only rationalise, but make much better
legislation that actually has a real proportionate balance between
the rights of the citizen and the protection of the citizen in
terms of their use of firearms.
Chair: Thank you very much for your evidence.
Thank you for the evidence that you gave the Committee in private,
which we found most helpful. If we need any further information,
we will be in touch with you. Thank you.