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Written Statements

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 18 August 2021

Written Statement

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Home Department

Shootings in Plymouth

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Plymouth on 12 August, my heartfelt condolences are with the family and friends of those who lost their lives—Maxine Davison, Lee and Sophie Martyn, Stephen Washington, and Kate Shepherd—as well as with those that were injured and the people who witnessed this truly terrible event.

The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are working closely with Devon and Cornwall Police and with victims’ services to ensure that those affected by this tragedy, including bereaved families, have all the support they need.

We must do all that we possibly can to avoid something like this happening again.

The UK has some of the strictest gun control legislation in the world and comparatively low levels of gun crime. Yet while tragedies like last Thursday’s are rare, their impact is profound. We constantly assess what sensible and proportionate steps we can take to help prevent such terrible loss of life.

This is now the subject of an ongoing police investigation, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is looking at actions taken by Devon and Cornwall Police in relation to issuing a firearms licence, so it would be inappropriate to comment further on these matters while that work is ongoing.

However, as a matter of urgency, I have asked every police force in England, Wales, and Scotland to review their current firearms licensing processes—in particular the processes that they follow for returning a certificate—and ensure they are appropriate as set against the current Home Office guidance and legislation. This current guidance asks chief officers to ensure high-risk decisions are approved at a sufficiently senior level. Such decisions include granting a certificate following a previous refusal or revocation, including by another force; where there is evidence of violence, domestic abuse or medical unsuitability; or where concerns have been raised by someone known to the licence holder.

The Government keep firearms licensing controls under constant review. The Home Office is bringing forward new statutory guidance to improve how people applying for a firearms licence are assessed in future. The new guidance draws on previous lessons learned and will ensure better consistency and improved standards across police firearms licensing departments. It will mean that that no one is given a firearms licence unless their doctor has confirmed to the police whether or not they have any relevant medical conditions, including an assessment of their mental health, and it will make explicit that firearms applicants may be subject to social media checks. The police will have a legal duty to consider the new statutory guidance when it is published. We plan to publish this new guidance in the coming weeks. We will keep the new statutory guidance under review, especially in light of this terrible incident, and we will update it as necessary in due course.

The police have not declared this to be a terrorist incident. Investigations into Davison’s motives for committing these terrible attacks continue. Whether or not an incident is determined to be terrorism-related is a decision made independently of the Government by the police, based on the specific circumstances and what the police find during the investigation.

The UK has one of the most robust counter-terrorism frameworks in the world. Our definition of terrorism includes an act or the threat of serious violence to advance an ideological, religious, racial, or political cause. The Terrorism Act 2000 definition is sufficiently broad to capture modern causes of terrorism, including “incel” violence. It is this definition that is applied when determining whether specific individuals are engaging in terrorism and if incidents should be classified as a terrorist attack.

This appalling event has shaken the whole country, and in particular the people of Plymouth. Our hearts go out to them. This is something which no community and nobody should have to endure. I would also like to thank those police officers and others who attended the scene for their incredible bravery.

[HCWS250]