December 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 11-01-2021
GCN is committed to preventing gun violence and we work to pursue that objective through changes to the legal system, public services and attitudes to guns. We collect and analyse data to provide all stakeholders with the evidence needed to initiate change.
GCN collects data on gun incidents and related sentences, inquests and investigations in England, Scotland, and Wales as reported in the British media. We know our information is incomplete, though we believe nearly all the most serious crimes are included.
This Review refers to incidents that occurred during December 2020 and to earlier incidents for which further information has now been reported, often as a result of a court case or inquest. Please note that the data used for the Figures is derived solely from incidents that occurred, or first came to our attention, in December 2020.
Figure 1: December incident reports by type
We monitor FATAL GUN INCIDENTS in Great Britain and compile a list that summarises the available information. Our summaries for 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We are aware of at least one report in December 2020 concerning a gun death:
- Police officers responding to reports of a shooting in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire found a man with gunshot injuries. The victim was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later. A man has since been arrested on suspicion of murder.
We are aware of at least two reports in December 2020 relating to gun deaths:
- The jury at the inquest into the death of a man shot by firearms officers in May 2016 has concluded that he was lawfully killed, cause of death being fatal gunshot wounds to the head and chest. The man, on the run from a murder investigation, was found in an orchard near Goudhurst, Kent. Two of the specialist officers sent to “surround and apprehend” the fugitive fired four rounds at him after he “failed to respond to police warnings” and pointed a shotgun at them. After hearing one officer’s testimony that he believed he and his colleague were about to be killed, the jury found the officers’ response to be “reasonable and proportionate”.
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Littleborough, Greater Manchester in November last year has recorded a verdict of suicide, cause of death being a single gunshot wound to the head. The inquest heard that the man had suffered mental health problems and a number of traumatic events, including the breakdown of his marriage. The deceased was found in a bed at his parents’ house by his sister. A shotgun, legally owned by his father, was discovered laying across his chest. The shotgun had been kept in a locked cabinet, the keys to which were locked in a safe. The deceased left a note to his parents in which he apologised for taking the keys and thanked them for their support.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least seven reports in December 2020 we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator:
- A 24-year-old man has been handed a 40-month prison term after admitting five charges of assault. In August this year, he racially abused a man and fired an air pistol at his feet, ordering him to dance. He also attacked another man with an axe and fired an air pistol at the victim’s home in Glasgow, Scotland. The man carried out a total of five “drink and drug-fuelled” attacks over the period of a week.
- A 35-year-old man has been sentenced to 26 months in prison after pleading guilty to breach of a non-molestation order, possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and assaulting an emergency worker. In June this year, the man produced an imitation firearm while visiting his grandmother’s home in Seabridge, Staffordshire, before pointing it at her and asking her to pass on a “veiled threat” that he might hurt his uncle. Following his subsequent arrest, he abused police and spat food at one officer. The imitation weapon, a replica air weapon, was recovered from the man’s home and found to be capable of firing pellets. The court heard that the man “struggles with mental health issues”.
- Police officers in Wigan, Greater Manchester responded after receiving a report that a woman, who “may have been involved in a domestic incident, potentially involving a firearm”, had gone missing. A man was subsequently arrested from an address in the town on suspicion of false imprisonment and firearms offences.
- A 21-year-old man has been sentenced to two years and nine months in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of criminal damage and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. After breaking up with his girlfriend, he began sending her threatening messages. Then in October last year, he smashed a car windscreen and a house window at her home in Manchester, Greater Manchester. The following month he called at the home of one of his ex-partner’s friends, armed with a shotgun. The friend slammed the door shut when she saw him standing outside with a gun and, as she ran up the stairs, he fired through a kitchen window. When he was arrested the following month, he initially denied the allegations.
- A 27-year-old man has been sentenced to two years and nine months in jail after pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause an individual to believe that violence would be used against them and two counts of criminal damage. His 22-year-old accomplice was handed a jail term of two years and eleven months after pleading guilty to the same firearms offence and driving while disqualified and without a licence. In May this year, the 27-year-old took offence to a text sent to him by his ex-partner’s new boyfriend. In response, he threatened to shoot the man. He then recruited his accomplice as a driver and the pair chased and rammed the man’s car before forcing him to stop on a street in Accrington, Lancashire. He then approached the victim’s car with an imitation gun and used it to smash the vehicle’s windows. He pointed the firearm at the driver’s window and fired at his victim, who managed to drive away. On sentencing, the judge said: “Imitation firearms are often hard to distinguish from the real thing but the victim is usually as much frightened by an imitation firearm as they would be if a genuine firearm was used and the fear and terror in this case was obvious”.
- A 34-year-old man has been handed a suspended eighteen-month prison sentence and ordered to carry out up to twenty days of rehabilitation activity after pleading guilty to possessing a prohibited weapon. Following a row with his girlfriend at his home in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, he threatened her with a Taser, discharging the weapon but not hitting her. After his girlfriend reported him to police, he co-operated with officers and showed them where he kept the weapon. He claimed to have bought the Taser online to defend himself after being bullied. The court heard that the man has learning difficulties and requires assistance from a mental health social worker.
- Two men have been jailed for twenty years and seventeen years respectively after being found guilty of attempted murder. In March this year, one of the men arranged to meet another man in a back lane in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, purportedly to sort out a dispute between them. However, on arrival the perpetrator jumped out of a van, saying “it ends tonight”, before shooting his unarmed victim with a rifle. The victim survived the attack after the bullet missed an artery by a millimetre.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least two reports in December 2020 that relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition:
- See Inquests above − A jury recorded a verdict of ‘legally killed’ regarding the death of a man shot by police in Kent.
- A coroner recorded a verdict of suicide regarding the death of a man in Greater Manchester known to have mental health problems and to have suffered a number of traumatic events, including the breakdown of his marriage, who nevertheless was able to access his father’s legally-owned gun to take his own life.
We note at least three reports involving the use of police Tasers including:
- Police Tasered a man in St. Andrews, Fife after he tried to stab an officer while “experiencing mental health difficulties”.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least four reports in December 2020 that relate to stolen guns and ammunition:
- Two antique rifles have been stolen from a home in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire. Police officers issued a description of the weapons, inherited by the owner from his late father and said to be of great sentimental value.
- Police appealed for information after an air rifle and between 400 and 600 air rifle pellets, as well as other items, were stolen from two storage units in Ludgershall, Wiltshire.
- An air rifle, a small safe full of ammunition and other items have been stolen from a building in Bucknell, Shropshire.
- For men reportedly cut through the gates of a gun shop in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire before stealing air rifles and other items.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least six reports in December 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- Three cats and a kitten have been injured in separate shootings in Hampshire, North Wales, South Wales and Yorkshire. A puppy has been injured after being shot with what is believed to have been a BB gun in Greater Mancheter.
- After the body of the last golden eagle living wild in Wales was found earlier this year in Tregaron, Ceredigion, post-mortem examination revealed it had previously been shot. Although not the cause of death, X-rays revealed the bird had been shot at least twice with a shotgun. The eagle had been living around the Llyn Brianne reservoir for twelve years after escaping captivity at three months old. Cause of death was given as Aspergillosis, a fungal infection; however, there have been questions as to why the findings of the post-mortem were not reported in full at the time.
Imitation, Airsoft, airguns and BB guns do not currently require a licence in England or Wales. These guns are responsible for many gun injuries to both humans and animals.
N.B. Since January 2017, airgun owners in Scotland have been required to have a licence, and airgun crime in Scotland has decreased by one third.
Gun Control Network, The RSPCA, The Cats Protection League, other organisations and individuals are calling for similar legislation in England and Wales. MPs and families bereaved as a result of ‘child on child’ airgun fatalities are concerned that the failure to publish the outcome of a Home Office Review of air weapon regulations is undemocratic.
We find it deplorable that the Home Office has chosen to ignore the statistical evidence from Scotland regarding the country’s significant reduction in airgun crime since the introduction of licensing for airgun owners, and launch another review which, at the outset, clearly rejects licensing for airgun owners in England and Wales.
Border Force and National Crime Agency
- A woman and a man were jailed for eight-and-a-half years and eight years respectively after they were convicted of two counts of importing firearms. The court heard that the woman enlisted the “cash-strapped” man to smuggle firearms and ammunitions into the UK from Amsterdam. However, in March of this year, following a joint National Crime Agency and Border Force investigation, the man’s car was stopped in Coquelles, en route to Kent. Officials recovered an AKM Kalashnikov rifle, a 9mm handgun and more than a hundred rounds of ammunition from a locked briefcase inside the vehicle. The duo had planned the illegal importation using the encrypted messaging app, Wickr.
- After officials searched a container at the docks in Southampton, Hampshire, police arrested a man on suspicion of offences including being concerned in the supply of cocaine, importing a controlled drug of Class A with intent to evade prohibited, possessing a firearm and converting criminal property.
- After a man from South Tyneside ordered an imitation AR15 assault rifle online from Hong Kong for his 7-year-old grandchild, Borer Force officials intercepted the weapon inside a parcel labelled “plastic puzzle”. The man received a written warning for the importation offence and was provided with specialist advice. Police have issued warnings to online shoppers of the risks of buying knives, imitation firearms and other weapons that put them in danger of prosecution under the Offensive Weapons Act.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 51 reports in December 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A man has been jailed for two years and nine months after admitting four counts of possession of offensive weapons, possession of ammunition without a certificate and producing cannabis. In October last year, an enforcement officer was sent to recover the man’s van outside his home in Glynneath, Neath Port Talbot because of an unpaid council tax bill. The man told the enforcement officer that he could not take the vehicle because it contained firearms, before showing him a locked gun box in the back of the van. He then sat in the driver’s seat to prevent the van being driven away. Police officers, including armed personnel, responded and the man was found to have a fist knife in his pocket. A flick knife, two expandable batons and an air rifle were recovered from the van, with more air weapons, hunting knives, smoke grenades, a box of rifle cartridges and 125 cannabis plants being seized from inside his house.
- A 24-year-old man has been jailed for 21 years after being found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. In February this year, the 24-year-old drove a getaway car for a gunman who shot a man three times on a street in Stockport, Greater Manchester. The victim, fearing his two sons and two of their friends were going to become involved in a fight, accompanied them outside where he was shot from behind by a gunman who had been lying in wait. He suffered profoundly serious leg injuries and has since decided to have one leg amputated due to ongoing pain and other problems. Phone evidence revealed the 24-year-old’s involvement, but the gunman has never been identified. A second defendant was recruited to set the getaway car alight to destroy evidence; however, he crashed the car, enabling police officers to recover “crucial” evidence. He was subsequently jailed for three years and nine months for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and a number of motoring offences.
- After the Court of Appeal found his deferred sentence to be unduly lenient, a 25-year-old man has been jailed for three years. He had previously pleaded guilty to drugs offences and possession of criminal property, prohibited weapons and a lock knife. In July this year, a patrolling police officer in Sherborne, Dorset spotted a machete in the footwell of the man’s parked car. The officer subsequently recovered a stun gun, a lock knife, drugs, a mobile phone and a bank card belonging to another person from inside the vehicle. A subsequent search of the man’s home address revealed two stun guns, an axe, cash, scales, mobile phones, cocaine and MDMA.
- A 46-year-old man has been jailed for five years after admitting possession of a noxious spray and two stun guns disguised as a torch and a lipstick, and importing the items from the Czech Republic. Following a tip-off, police officers raided Warren’s flat in Aberdeen, Scotland and discovered the stun guns at the property; the noxious spray was discovered in his car. The judge said: “The law takes an extremely serious view of the offences you committed. There is a minimum sentence of five years, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Given you got these items to protect yourself that is not an exceptional circumstance.”
- A police officer with Devon and Cornwall Police has been given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £500 towards costs and a £21 victim surcharge after being convicted of trespassing on land with a firearm. In October last year, the officer fled after a member of the public found him on private farmland in Wembury, Devon with a firearm. In addition, a Police Service hearing found the officer guilty of gross misconduct after he hit a member of the public in 2018. Both offences were committed when the officer was off duty. He has now been sacked from his position and will be prevented from working in policing.
- A 32-year-old gang member has been jailed for twelve years after admitting selling a firearm and possessing prohibited weapons. In June this year, police officers observed the man handing an American-made antique revolver to a 19-year-old associate in Fallowfield, South Manchester. When police stopped the 19-year- old, they found him in possession of the revolver and five rounds of .32 ammunition. He claimed he had been pressured into collecting the weapon by County Lines gangsters in Stevenage and has since been handed five years’ youth custody after admitting possessing a prohibited firearm and ammunition. The 32-year-old, believed to have “masterminded a UK-wide gun running racket”, was arrested a month later after officers found a British-made revolver in the boot of his car.
- Four men have been jailed for life after each was convicted of murder, kidnap, robbery and possession of a firearm. In March this year, the four men kidnapped two teenagers and “asked them about motorbikes in the area”. They then visited a man’s home in Southport, Merseyside and, when he refused to hand over his four motorbikes, one of them shot him twice, in the stomach and leg. The man was pronounced dead in hospital shortly afterwards. The assailants tried to steal three of the motorbikes before fleeing in a stolen car. Police used mobile phone evidence to locate all four members of the gang.
- A man has been jailed for thirteen years with five years’ extended licence after pleading guilty to five charges of possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, two robberies and taking two vehicles without consent. The man entered a shop in Midsomer Norton, Somerset and pointed a handgun at one of the workers, telling her to put money into a bag. CCTV footage showed him with his hands around the young woman’s neck. The following month he carried out a “copycat” raid in nearby Timsbury. Forensic evidence led to his arrest ten days later. The court heard that the robberies, committed to pay off a drug debt, had left staff terrified, with one victim describing how she struggles to sleep.
- A 32-year-old and a 26-year-old have been jailed for twenty-four years after being found guilty of attempted murder and possession of a sawn-off shotgun. In April this year, in a “gangland-style hit”, the two men ran towards a man on a street in Cardiff, Wales. The first struck him down with a machete, the second then shot the victim at point-blank range, leaving him with serious neck injuries. The court heard that the shooting was a pre-planned “attempt to kill” as part of an ongoing feud, with the attackers using false number plates on their getaway car to avoid detection. Following the shooting, the perpetrators hid the loaded shotgun near a children’s playground and the older man was seen collecting it later. The attack was carried out in front of members of the public, including children, with the judge describing the timing and location as “aggravating features”.
- A 32-year-old man and a 25-year-old-man have been jailed for thirteen years, eleven months and eight-and-a-half years respectively after being found guilty of possessing a firearm, being concerned in the supply of cocaine and possessing criminal property. Police officers targeting the men in a covert operation in June this year, caught them carrying £10,500 in cash and mobile phones, with more cash, drugs, drugs paraphernalia and a starter pistol converted to fire live ammunition being found at a property in Leeds, West Yorkshire, linked to the men. The investigation established that the older man was running a drug dealing operation in the city, with the younger man delivering the drugs.
- A 68-year-old man has been jailed for five years after admitting having an air weapon with intent and causing another to believe that unlawful violence would be used against them. In November last year, the man pointed a high-powered prohibited air pistol at a support worker’s head after becoming upset about a mould problem in his flat in Norwich, Norfolk. He told the council worker that he wanted to kill people “that had done him wrong”. The court heard that the man, who has a history of mental health problems, was arrested after the worker calmed him down and called the police.
- Three men have been jailed for a total of over 39 years for their involvement in a drive-by shooting in Bootle, Merseyside in September 2019. The first man shot a teenage gang rival in the leg from the passenger seat of a delivery van being driven by a second man. After the first man was caught by police, rival gang members twice shot at his dad in a revenge attack. Following this, the first man phoned his girlfriend from prison to organise a retaliative attack by a gunman “known for maiming victims”. The following month, police officer raiding an address in Kensington found a loaded gun. The weapon was found to be the same one used in the drive-by shooting and the first man’s DNA was recovered from it. The third man, whose DNA was also found on the firearm, was described as their “armourer”.
Incidents by Weapon Type
Many incidents involve the use of airguns*, Airsoft, imitation and BB guns, which do not require a licence and may not contain ammunition but are used by perpetrators to capitalise on the fear of victims who believe they are about to be shot. Traumatised victims are often unable to identify the weapons used. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between imitation and live-firing guns unless the weapons are fired and/or recovered, and, for this reason, guns involved in incidents frequently remain unidentified.
Shotguns and rifles can be legally held by those granted a licence. Ultimately, legally-obtained guns in every country tend to find their way into the wrong hands, whether through theft, corrupt gun dealers, and/or the failure of the licensing procedure to identify legal gun owners who pose a risk to themselves and/or others.
Please see the endnote for further explanation of gun types and current legal status.
Figure 2: December 2020 reports by weapon type
See Gun incidents in the UK page for details of incidents involving these gun types.
Guns that do not require a licence: Airguns* (so-called ‘low-powered’); Airsoft; ball-bearing; imitation; paintball; antique; deactivated; bolt guns** and starting pistols/blank firers. These guns are cheap, accessible and available to buy on impulse. Moreover, lack of secure storage requirements enables theft. Many are capable of being converted into more powerful weapons. Guns deactivated to early specifications are capable of reactivation and recent, more rigorous specifications are not retrospective.
There is no legal definition of ‘antique’ and, although possession of antique guns is prohibited to those having served or received a criminal sentence, it is unclear how this is administered during sales and transfers.
Airsoft guns are exempt from the terms of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and are ‘self-regulated’ by the Airsoft industry. The Home Office fails to collect data on the proliferation of Airsoft skirmishing sites.
- *From January 2017 airgun owners in Scotland have required a licence.
- ** A ‘slaughter licence’ is required for a bolt gun.
Guns that require a licence: Airguns in Scotland; shotguns; rifles; police firearms/ Tasers.
The inadequate licensing procedure is subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £20 million a year. Any number of shotguns can be held on one certificate, which lasts for five years. The licensing procedure consistently fails to protect the public from licensed gun-owning perpetrators and women are particularly at risk of domestic violence involving licensed gun owners. However, the Home Office fails to publish data regarding the number of Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition involved in crime, and the status of guns used in suicides is not recorded at inquests.
Guns that are prohibited: Handguns (revolvers, pistols etc.); Olympic starting pistols; Tasers; submachine guns; and ‘other’ weapons (pepper spray/CS Gas; home-made guns and explosive devices). Certain handguns are exempt from prohibition. Handgun, Taser and pepper spray use is authorised for police, but there are concerns regarding fatalities and Taser training.
Imitation/Airsoft guns are available without background checks. Crimes reported in the media as involving handguns are likely to involve imitations, airsoft, air pistols or other guns that look like handguns, resulting in misleadingly-inflated reports of handgun crime.
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