Examination of Witnesses (Questions 238-269)|
MICK FIDGEON, CHIEF CONSTABLE CRAIG MACKEY AND ASSISTANT
CHIEF CONSTABLE ADRIAN WHITING
16 NOVEMBER 2010
Q238 Chair: Thank you very
much indeed, gentlemen, for coming to give evidence to the Committee.
Can I start with a question to each of you? There is obviously
concern, after the announcement of the comprehensive spending
review, about the amount of resources that can be directed towards
gun licensing and gun control. Do you have any concerns about
that? Do you think it will reduce the police's ability to ensure
that licensing is properly undertaken?
Adrian Whiting: Sir, I would say
that I have a number of concerns. I have already had to recommend
to chief officers that, in particular, things such as home visits,
which are part of our national policy on both grant and renewal,
are conducted in person. A number of forces conduct them by telephone
and, in some cases, postally. It gives me some concern that, in
the forthcoming climate in which policing will operate, arrangements
such as that will be placed under increasing pressure.
Therefore, any opportunities that can be taken
to reinforcethat is one example, of coursethe necessity
around some of the administrative processes linked to public safety
in this regard are well worth taking. I don't foresee a wholesale
collapse, for example, in relation to this, but I do see that
there is a risk of erosion around some of the practices that we
Q239 Chair: Because of some
of these changes that you are going to have to make, do you feel
that somebody might slip through the net, who otherwise would
have been discovered as undesirable?
Adrian Whiting: Sir, I think there
is a clear risk, but trying to quantify that is incredibly difficult.
That is why I maintain the policy position nationally that I do.
Although it is difficult to quantify that risk, that is clearly
Q240 Chair: Should there be
a national licensing authority to deal with these issues? One
suggestion is that the various application/licensing systems ought
to be rolled into one, so that it is very clear to whom you have
Adrian Whiting: I don't think
that any intending certificate holders, applicants or those who
hold certificates approaching renewal or are looking for variation
are in any doubt as to where the application is to be addressed.
As for a national body, I am not generally speaking in favour
of that. I don't think the evidence at the moment points to there
being such a significant opportunity for improvement, if that
were taken from the police service and placed into a separate
organisation. I bear in mind the fact that that separate organisation
would presumably have to have access to all the information that
a police service and the chief constable have.
Q241 Chair: But it could be
part of the new national crime agency, couldn't it?
Adrian Whiting: Conceivably, but
the organisation that undertakes it will have to have a comprehensive
national network capable of undertaking house-to-house, almost,
inquiries. I don't think the national agency would be in a position
to want to undertake that. It would be potentially at some odds
with the remit that I understand that agency is likely to take
Chair: Mr Mackey, I will turn to you
now. Mr Burley is going to probe you on a number of specific questions,
but on behalf of the Committee we would like to recognise the
work of the Cumbria police after the incident occurred. I was
at the police awards last Thursday when you and your men and women
were duly recognised for the work they did.
Craig Mackey: Thank you.
Q242 Mr Burley: Mr Whiting
concluded that the decisions taken by Cumbria constabulary to
grant Derrick Bird a shotgun firearms certificate were reasonable,
and that all appropriate checks took place. Obviously, we have
heard evidence before the Committee that that individual had convictions
for drink-driving; that he had come to the attention of the police
over an argument with his girlfriend; and that he had been arrested
with regard to payment with menaces, two counts of theft and handling
of stolen goods.
It seems that Derrick Bird was known to you,
and I guess the Committee is wondering whether you are satisfied
that, at every appropriate opportunity, checks were made on him
as to whether he was still fit to hold that shotgun licence.
Craig Mackey: I'm as reassured
as I can be. I don't think you are ever going to be happy or satisfied
about the events of 2 June. All I could ask for, and all I wanted,
was reassurance that the proper processes had been followed at
that time. It is important to put in context the later unsubstantiated
Many members of the community have things reported
about them that never end up before a court. That is not uncommon
in work like taxi work. I suspect that if you looked at the number
of times he was also reported as a victim, where people made off
from his taxithere would be incidents like that. What it
does is use it as part of building a picture to make an informed
decision about the individual, based on the information you have
at the time. That is all you can do.
I wanted the reassurance that the processes
and procedures, as they existed, and the legislation had been
followed. The important thingas it said in the report,
and it is my own conclusion, having looked at itis that
a licensing system can only ever reduce risk. If we wanted to
eliminate the risk of something like 2 June, there would have
to be a completely and fundamentally different relationship with
the public availability of firearms. It is not a matter of simple
changes to the licensing system.
Q243 Mr Burley: The corollary
of that answer is whether, if all the proper processes took place
and we still had the incident, we need more robust processes in
place to reduce the risk even further, accepting that you could
never eliminate it altogether. We have heard suggestions that
perhaps GPs should be contacted on a more regular basis. Should
police licensing officers have more discretion to make these decisions
to speak to people? Should they have to come into your station
once a year? Are there things we can do?
Craig Mackey: I would support
all the suggestions in the part 2 report in terms of that. I know
some of the challenges it will present.
Q244 Chair: Even if those
suggestions were followed, do you think this still would have
happened? Is that what you are saying?
Craig Mackey: What I am saying
is that, if you want to eliminate the risk completely, it is a
fundamentally different relationship around the availability of
firearms in a community.
Q245 Chair: But if you accept
what Mr Burley saysthat all these processes should changeare
you saying at the end of the day that this would still have happened?
Craig Mackey: What I'm saying
is that there is no guarantee it won't happen.
Q246 Mr Burley: In terms of
minimising, are there more processes that we can put in place?
Craig Mackey: Absolutely. I think
that the issue about minimising the risk is absolutely right.
The work with health and the issue about prohibited persons and
suspended sentences are an opportunity to clear up a whole range
of these things that minimise the risk of a future event.
Q247 Alun Michael: Mr Mackey
just referred to prohibited persons. May I askthis is primarily
for Mr Whitinghow you respond to the proposals of the Independent
Police Complaints Commission in respect of prohibited persons?
Adrian Whiting: Yes, sir. We are
largely at one, but the Independent Police Complaints Commission
and ACPO certainly support my proposals in relation to wholly
suspended sentences. Similarly, I take note of and am in agreement
with their proposals in relation to bindovers and weighing up
the accumulative effect of convictions that might otherwise seem
unrelated. I didn't include that in my report, because the issue,
as they recommended it, was to see a change in the Home Office
guidance, which I think is relatively straightforward if people
are so minded.
What I have recommended in relation to wholly
suspended sentences would require, I believe, some greater clarification
than that, because it is based on the interpretation of the law
as the 1968 Act is worded and in a particular judgment in the
Fordham case. I highlighted mine because it requires a greater
administrative step to make that change, but we are certainly
Q248 Alun Michael: There's
always an approach that asks, "Where are the gaps in the
law and where are the gaps in the guidance?" Do you agree
with a comment made to us in a recent evidence session that what
we need is more of a public health approach that considers the
whole environment in which these events take place?
Adrian Whiting: Yes, that's why
I have made recommendations on things such as a more formal framework
around those who are consulted in the process of application and
renewal, to include family residents who are perhaps resident
at the same address. I think there are opportunities in terms
of taking forward a more complete, holistic approach to the licensing
question that moves us on from some potentially process-driven
arrangements that look down a list and ask, "Does this or
that apply or not?"
Q249 Alun Michael: Could I
ask Mr Fidgeon in particular whether the guidance for police officers
in this area, with the clarification that you are seeking to make,
is clear enough in terms of what it says? Is the legislationin
some cases, there are different rules for different weaponsa
problem in relation to the guidance that police officers have
Mick Fidgeon: I would say that
the guidance is almost fit for purpose. It is undergoing a review
at the moment, and part and parcel of the IPCC's recommendations
are going forward towards the guidance. The main thing for us
is that guidance is not always upheld by the courts, which is
one of the reasons why part of the submission is actually to give
it some legal status as an approved code of practice, such as
health and safety legislation.
Q250 Steve McCabe: I want
to ask not specifically about the guidance for the IPCC, but whether
Mr Fidgeon is familiar with the evidence that Mr Eveleigh, who
is now with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation,
gave the Committee. He is a former firearms licensing officer.
Mick Fidgeon: Yes, sir, I have
read Mr Eveleigh's submission.
Q251 Steve McCabe: He basically
told us that the process of determining whether someone is fit
to have a licence is too complicated, and he was very exercised
about having to look at the shape of the bullet and the way that
it gets into the chamber. He seemed to think that that was taking
time away from concentrating on the fitness of the individual
themselves. Is that your experience?
Mick Fidgeon: No, sir, I would
say that in my experience we are talking about the individual
and the firearm. We are talking about the individual and whether
they are a danger to public safety and to the peace and whether
they are fit to be entrusted with firearms. Good reason is a separate
matter and is dependent on whether an individual has good reason
for that firearm, not on whether that individual is a danger to
public safety or to the peace.
Q252 Mr Winnick: I go back
to what one of my colleagues has already asked about the character
of Derrick Bird. We can all be wise after the event, and, obviously,
it goes without saying how deeply shocked the whole country was
by those terrible killings.
Let us look at the character of that mass murderer:
in 1982 he was convicted and fined for drink driving; in 1988
he came to the notice of the police following an argument with
a girlfriend; in 1999 he was released without charge after being
arrested in connection to an investigation into allegations concerning
the making of a demand for payment with menaces; and in 1990 he
was convicted on two counts of theft and one count of handling
How is it possibleI am sure that this
question is being asked by the loved ones left behind, as well
as the rest of the countrythat a person such as that could
be allowed to have a licence?
Chair: Mr Mackey, can we have a quick
Craig Mackey: The reality is that,
in relation to each of those incidents, as far as we know from
the records that are left, his firearms suitability was reviewed
and it fell entirely within the guidelines. The issue with his
making off without payment, to which you referred, is completely
unsubstantiated. It is an allegation such as is made against many
people every day of the week.
Q253 Mr Winnick: Yes, indeed.
If the guidelines were observed, which doesn't seem to be in question,
then, inevitably, the question arises of whether there is something
wrong with those guidelines.
Craig Mackey: I think that that
comes back, sir, to the point that your colleague made about looking
at and tightening up the guidelines. That was highlighted by the
review, and we welcome that.
Q254 Mark Reckless: With respect
to the age restrictions, why does a child have to wait until they
are 14 to have a licence for a firearm, when they can get a shotgun
licence at any point? Why, if I am correct, can you give a firearm
to a child at 14, but not a shotgun until they are 15 and not
an air rifle until they are 18?
Adrian Whiting: They are products
of the history of the development of the legislation from approximately
1920 onwards. I believe that the age restrictions in relation
to firearms certificates stem from the then popular cadet shooting
movement and the age of admission to that, as do a number of other
things, such as the minimum calibre for miniature rifle ranges.
In relation to shotguns, of course, they are
subject to a different system of control, because they were not
originally covered by that legislation. The legislation sought
to cover what we would now call section 1 firearms. Section 2
firearmsshotgunswere brought under a separate system
of control at a later time.
Q255 Chair: Basically, should
they not be consolidated? That would be much more useful.
Adrian Whiting: There is scope
to align the systems, but, essentially, it is by dint of history
that they are different.
Q256 Steve McCabe: Mr Whiting,
I accept the historical argument, but presumably, as a senior
police officer, you wouldn't advocate that a 14-year-old be given
a provisional driving licence. How do we justify giving a licence
like this to a child?
Adrian Whiting: When the certificate
is granted it does not give the young person the ability to purchase
firearms and ammunition, nor does it give them an opportunity
to shoot other than when they're supervised.
Q257 Steve McCabe: But in
theory a provisional driving licence does the same. It doesn't
allow you to buy the car, and you have to drive under supervision.
Adrian Whiting: Yes, but
Chair: Are you telling the Committee
that it is an anomaly that needs to be looked at?
Adrian Whiting: No, I am saying
that the difference between firearms certificate age restrictions
and shotgun certificate age restrictions is an anomaly. The fact
that young people can obtain a certificate is not an anomaly because
they shoot under supervised conditions where the risk of coming
into conflict with other people is hugely minimised, which would
not necessarily be the case on the road with a provisional licence
holder where there are any number of hazards to contend with.
Q258 Dr Huppert: There is
general agreement that it is too confusing at the moment, with
lots and lots of different ages. I lose track slightly of what
you can do at what age and who you can borrow something from and
how old they have to be. If we are to have a unified system, what
ages do you think should apply in that?
Adrian Whiting: The evidence in
relation to young people shooting does not give any cause for
concernI am talking about section 1 firearms and section
2 shotgunsaround the current system which, for example,
enables children younger than 14 to possess a shotgun certificate
in order to shoot when they are being supervised.
Chair: We understand that, but what Dr
Huppert is asking is, as you acknowledge that it is an anomaly,
what would be a sensible approach to bring these various pieces
of legislation together? What is the age that we should allow
people to apply? You are the ACPO lead on firearms, so presumably
you have a view on this.
Adrian Whiting: I have a view
that, because children as young as 10 have been able to shoot
perfectly safely with a shotgun certificate, there is no reason
to interrupt that, and I suppose the difficulty is that the corollary
follows that if there is no evidence to suggest that children
of that age, properly supervised in appropriate conditions, can
shoot safely, why would you not apply that to the firearms certificate?
What I would say there is that the nature of the shootingthe
environment in which it takes placeis different.
Chair: Of course, but if you were looking
at consolidating this and making it one age, so it is not confusing
to members of this Committee and the public when they don't know
at what age they can apply, what age would the ACPO lead on firearms
suggest would be appropriate?
Adrian Whiting: The minimum age
would be 10, I would suggest, Sir.
Q259 Bridget Phillipson: If
I could turn to the issue of medical records of licence holders,
you will be aware that a number of concerns have been raised by
the shooting community, doctors and the Information Commissioner
about the tagging of medical records. Do you still feel that it
would be useful to pursue that proposal and why is that?
Adrian Whiting: Very much so.
I know the Committee has had evidence from other parties, notably
the IPCC on this subject. We commenced this work in 2007, looking
at the system that I know you are familiar with around tagging
medical records so there is an enduring record for a general practitioner
to have access to. Because people tend to see doctors who are
not necessarily their specified GP and because the licensing takes
place every five years for renewal, there would, in my view, need
to be an enduring record that they can refer to. Subsequent work
when the IPCC became involved a number of months after we had
commenced thissome issues arose about the difficulty of
holding that record within an NHS records systemsimply
looked at an option of notifying the GP at grant and renewal.
Certainly, I think it would be beneficial to
have a stepped approach to this if it is difficult to have an
enduring system on an electronic record. I think that the issue
at hand is that it provides an additional opportunity for a health
concern to be raised. The issue with that is that, currently,
police are advised only to approach a medical practitioner when
we have cause to do so, as opposed to speculatively to see if
there is a concern. Clearly, the applicant is expected to detail
certain medical conditions on their application, and if they chose
not to, this would provide an additional safeguard against somebody
doing that, which I would also advocate ought to be an offence.
So it is quite important, I would suggest.
Q260 Bridget Phillipson: Mr
Fidgeon, how useful or important is the information you would
receive from medical practitioners when determining someone's
fitness to hold a licence?
Mick Fidgeon: At the moment, all
we receive is information regarding their signs and symptoms,
and in most cases these are referred to the appointed medical
practitioner, in the case of Essex, and in many other forces to
the force medical examiner. Then a decision is taken regarding
that information on whether the individual is still fit to be
entrusted with firearms, or whether they are able to hold firearms
without a danger to public safety or to the peace. That information
is conveyed to us, but we are not medically qualified. It is down
to force medical examiners or appointed medical practitioners
to make a decision whether that information is information that
we can rely on in court should they subsequently appeal.
Q261 Bridget Phillipson: Returning
to the question that Mr Winnick asked earlier in terms of looking
at the cumulative nature of offences, or perhaps even allegations,
if I were to apply for a job to work with vulnerable people, for
example, and was subject to an enhanced CRB check, if I had been
arrested for an offence, that would come up even if I hadn't necessarily
been cautioned or convicted and that could determine whether I
was offered a jobalthough I appreciate that that would
be subject to employment law. Do you think there is a rule there,
in terms of using the cumulative nature of offences even when
that person would not necessarily be prohibited from having a
licence, if cumulatively that would give you a picture of someone
that perhaps is having difficulties in their life or is an unfit
Adrian Whiting: Absolutely, it
would. To a greater or lesser extent, that would currently be
the process. That would be taken into account.
Q262 Bridget Phillipson: So
you're confident that, at the moment, the cumulative nature of
concern, even if that wasn't conviction or caution, would lead
to that licence being reviewed?
Adrian Whiting: Yes. Issues outside
of conviction, or caution, are currently taken into account. My
licensing manager, by way of example, would submit a file to me
that might contain arrest information or other informationsome
of it potentially sensitive that wouldn't wish to share with the
applicant or to let them know that we knowand I would make
decisions taking that information into account, and, in cases,
I have either refused or, indeed, revoked.
Q263 Nicola Blackwood: Mr
Whiting, I am interested to know how the IPCC's recommendations
in 2008, which were that the licensing force should be required
to approach the doctor and that the applicant, rather than police,
should have to pay for any fee that the GP might offer, turned
into recommendations from ACPO and the BMA, which are that patients'
records should be tagged and that there should be an onus on the
GP to raise concerns if there was a change in the status of the
applicant. Could you explain how one thing turned into another,
the second of which has lots of data protection issues around
Adrian Whiting: Yes, in fact the
second issue had actually been in existence prior to the IPCC's
involvement, but the IPCC would not necessarily have been aware
of that. The initial work with the British Medical Association
was to look at tagging the record, so that there was that enduring
marker, and so that if a GP changed during the life of a certificate
holder, or if a locum was acting, because an issue arose in someone's
mental health, for example, during the life of a certificate,
the GP service would have some indication that that person was
a certificate holder, as opposed to having to wait until the next
notification renewal. That was already under consideration, but
it was difficult for the very reasons that continue to be an issue
at the moment. Although, at that point, it was very difficult,
because of the nature of record holding by the NHS, and there
were no assurances that I could be given that that information
about an individual could be held securely on the GP's record
At that point, I had been involved in some investigative
work on behalf of the IPCC, and they have detailed some of the
investigations that were relevant. In conjunction with the IPCC,
we looked at the potential of, if you like, lessening that opportunity
to one of simply notifying the GP at grant and renewal. Of course,
the work around the enduring marker has continued, as it were,
in the background, and we have now got to a point, as I understandI
am at a meeting tomorrowwhere assurances around the security
of the information storage are now much stronger. That work has
continued, because I think that that is a better opportunity
Q264 Chair: Could you write
us a note following your meeting? It might be helpful.
Adrian Whiting: Of course.
Q265 Mr Burley: On that last
point, I am interested in these conditions that people could have
that would prevent them from having a licence or would get their
licence revoked. As always, I think the devil's in the detail.
If you have a GP sayingI don't know if Derrick Bird was
clinically depressed, but that was in some of the media reportsthat
someone is depressed, perhaps temporarily, because their wife
had died, would that be a cause for having their licence revoked,
and, if so, for how long if they were taking Prozac, which can
have a very strong effect on people? If they have some history
of alcohol or recreational drug use, is that a cause? It is not
clear to me what medical conditions, or, indeed, to use the analogy
with criminal records, cumulative number of medical conditions,
would lead to someone having their licence revoked.
Craig Mackey: I was just going
to pick up, if I may, on Derrick Bird first. There is no suggestion
from anything that we've got from the GP or the NHS that there
was an issue in relation to Derrick Bird. I think the sort of
circumstances you describe allow an assessment to be made of the
potential threat around an individual. If I presented before my
GP in a severely distressed state and the GP could see on a screen
in front of them a flag that says that I am a certificate holder,
and I have a selection of shotguns in the cabinet at home, they
might make some different decisions about passing information
on. This is about informing that professional judgment. You touched
on the point earlier; if the licensing system is the gatekeeper
to allow people access to lethal weapons, it is incumbent on all
of us to make sure that those systems and processes are right
and there are as many checks in that gatekeeping as possible.
Q266 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr
Mackey, I would like to ask you a bit about shooting facilities
and miniature firing ranges under section 11(4) of the Firearms
Act 1968, and indeed Home Office-approved facilities. Can you
confirm whether Derrick Bird was a member of a shooting club?
Craig Mackey: Not that we know
of, although it is important to point out that you can be a member
of a club or a syndicate, providing every member is a certificate
holder, and we would not necessarily know about it. We have no
record of his being a member of a shooting or gun club.
Q267 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do
you have anything further to add about Mr Whiting's conclusions
on the decision to license Derrick Bird? Would you like to add
Craig Mackey: I don't think there
is anything further I can add in relation to that. What I asked,
going back to the start of the process, was about ascertaining
whether the steps taken were reasonable and in line with the process
around licensing and legislation. That was the assurance I sought.
Obviously, in a rural county such as ours, with a large number
of shotgun and firearm certificate holders across the county,
I wanted some reassurance that the system worked. The system,
as it was at the time, worked.
Q268 Chair: I have asked most
of our witnesses about the content of violent video games and
their effect on young people. Do you have any views on this?
Adrian Whiting: It's difficult
directly to correlate between violence on video games, in films
and on television and people's immediate activity, particularly
in relation to the use of firearms. I think probably it is linked,
but in a much broader sociological spectrum. I don't have any
strong view that participation in such games leads inevitably,
as it were, to some sort of crime commission. I can understand
why the concerns are thereas a parent myself, I share thembut
I don't have a strong view that there is a clear link.
Chair: Mr McCabeonly for the final
Q269 Steve McCabe: Given your
earlier comments, what do you think should be the age restriction
for access to violent video games?
Adrian Whiting: That is a very
different issue from the age at which people can shoot supervised,
as I have indicated. Please don't get me wrong when I have given
that indication of a youngest age for a certificate; they would
still have to be supervised. I would point out that in the entire
country there are only 26some might view that as too many10-year-olds
with a shotgun certificate.
In relation to your question, I think the current
certificating system for age-related content would appear to be
fit for purpose. The issuequite clearlyis in applying
it, particularly in the home environment, and ensuring that it
is in some way upheld. That is largely an adult's responsibility
towards the younger people who would use such games.
Chair: We will write to put some more
points to you; there are a number of other points that we couldn't
raise because of time constraints. Thank you very much for coming
in today; I know you have postponed a number of meetings, and
we are most grateful.