March 2021 Review
by Gun Control Network on 22-04-2021
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 March 2021 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 March 2021. Figure 1: March 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 March 2021 concerning a gun death:
- An army sergeant has died after being injured during a live-fire military exercise at a training centre in Castlemartin, Pembrokeshire. Shortly after police officers responded to the incident, the victim was pronounced dead. Police are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and the Ministry of Defence to investigate the circumstances of the tragedy. An inquest into the death of a soldier, who was shot in the temple by a single machine gun bullet during a training exercise at the same site in 2012, concluded that he had been unlawfully killed.
We are aware of at least one inquest report in March 2021 relating to a gun death:
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a married couple at their home in Windermere, Cumbria in January last year has concluded that the man died by suicide, cause of death being a shotgun wound to the head, while the woman was unlawfully killed. The inquest heard that the man, aged 77, had “exerted significant control” over his wife, whose health was failing, and that he had spoken about suicide to his wife’s friend. The same friend discovered the couple after their deaths. The woman was found in bed, her husband having left a note saying she had died the previous day after an overdose of morphine. High levels of morphine were found in her system; however, examination revealed evidence of neck compression, likely caused by a pillow or cushion. No evidence of other drugs was found, confirming earlier reports that the man had been withholding his wife’s medication.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least six reports in March 2021 which we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
- A 56-year-old man from Falkirk, Stirlingshire has been jailed for six months for sending offensive messages, and possessing an air weapon without a certificate, after he sent a picture to a woman he knew, that showed him holding a handgun and pointing it at the camera.
- A 59-year-old man has been jailed for twelve months for possessing a BB gun and intentionally causing another to believe violence wold be used against them after he threatened his brother with a BB gun during an argument at their home in Salisbury, Wiltshire in November last year.
- A young man was handed a ten-month suspended sentence and ordered to complete 30 days of rehabilitation activity and 100 hours of unpaid work after he pleaded guilty to theft and possessing a loaded firearm in public. In February last year, the man stole his father’s double-barrel shotgun and 25 cartridges from a gun cabinet at their home in Coleshill, Warwickshire. After his father returned from a business trip and realised the items were missing, he checked his CCTV and saw his son leaving the house limping. Surmising that his son had hidden the shotgun down his trouser leg, the father contacted him, only to be told that the gun would be returned in exchange for £50. He then asked for a further £100 which his father did not pay. Meanwhile a man who saw someone “behaving suspiciously” near some recycling bins, alerted police after finding a loaded shotgun had been hidden behind one of them. Accepting that the young man had taken the gun at a time when he was considering suicide, the judge added “People who obtain firearms they are not entitled to have, and have such a firearm loaded in a public place, commit offences that are so serious that only a custodial sentence can be contemplated, but it is appropriate I suspend such sentence on you.”
- A 22-year-old man received a twelve-month community order with a 45-day rehabilitation activity and tagged curfew after he admitted affray and possession of a disguised firearm. In April 2019, the man was involved in a violent attack on a man in an alleyway in Morecambe, Lancashire. In November the same year, he approached his ex-partner on a street in the same town and discharged a Taser against her hand. The victim reported feeling a “shocking sensation”. After nearby bar staff alerted police, officers discovered a Taser disguised as a torch at the scene. Two months later, after he was arrested on an unrelated matter, police officers searched his home address and found a Taser with the potential to incapacitate someone. The court heard that his ex-partner had not made a complaint about her attacker because she was frightened.
- A 29-year-old man has been jailed for three years and four months after being convicted of assault with intent to rape, behaving in a threatening manner and breach of bail. He was also convicted of possession of a handgun; sentencing for this offence has been deferred to Edinburgh’s High Court. In the early hours of a morning in March 2019 the man entered a woman’s home in Gretna, Scottish Borders and sexually assaulted her at gunpoint. Having known him when he was younger, the victim recognised her attacker.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least six reports in March 2021 which we believe to relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition, and at least a further three reports of sentences involving guns stolen from legal owners (two involving gun trade premises) and used in crime:
- See Gun Deaths above − soldier shot during training with live-fire in Pembrokeshire.
- See Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator above − son stole father’s legally-owned shotgun from a house in Warwickshire in an attempt to extort money from his father.
- See Stolen Guns and Ammunition below − high-powered air rifle stolen from a home in Croydon, South London.
- Bomb disposal experts made safe a suspected unexploded WWII bomb found at an allotment in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.
- A bomb disposal squad carried out a controlled explosion after flares, detonators and explosive trip wires (thought to have been WW11 Home Guard training items) were found at a house in Newtonmore, Scottish Highlands, while ammunition was removed for safe disposal elsewhere.
- A man suffered serious injuries after being shot in the neck at the Ministry of Defence’s firing range in Pendine, Carmarthenshire. The man, a civilian weapons-testing expert, was rushed to hospital in an emergency helicopter after receiving first aid from medically-trained army personnel. It is believed that he was shot accidentally while working with weapons such as rifles or pistols. An investigation has been opened.
We note at least seven reports in March 2021 involving the use of police Tasers, including:
- Police officers responding to a report of a disturbance at a home in South West London Tasered a 10-year-old girl, said to be in an agitated state, after she refused to drop a weapon. The girl had allegedly been threatening her mother with a hammer. The girl was not injured during the incident. Following a complaint, the incident will be reviewed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. In its own review, the Metropolitan Police found that ‘no misconduct was identified’.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least four reports in March 2021 that relate to stolen guns and ammunition, and at least a further three reports of sentences involving guns stolen from legal owners (two involving gun trade premises) and used in criminal activity, including:
- See Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator above − son stole father’s legally owned shotgun from a house in Warwickshire in an attempt to extort money from his father.
- A 37-year-old man has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years after confessing to a series of burglaries, including one in Sproughton, Suffolk during which an air rifle was stolen.
- Three men, posing as police officers investigating tax evasion and money laundering, allegedly used fake warrant cards at homes in Croydon, South London to trick people into handing over a total of £20,000. When denied entry by some householders, the offenders reportedly forced their way in and stole money. They also allegedly stole a high-powered air rifle from one home, escaping in a getaway car with a false number plate.
- A licensed, unloaded single-barrelled shotgun has been stolen from the rear foot well of a pick-up truck at a farm on the border between Staffordshire and Shropshire.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least twenty-four reports in March 2021 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- Following a tip-off to its raptor crime hotline, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds monitored a driven grouse moor estate in the Yorkshire Dales national park and subsequently released footage of a person tethering an eagle owl to some rocks to lure buzzards to the area. On one occasion in April 2020, a person was witnessed shooting two buzzards that flew to the site of a similar tethering. All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is an offence to kill, injure or take wild birds except under licence. After the footage and information was passed to police, a police spokesperson said “… the identity of the suspect on the film could not be proved, and it was not possible to bring about a prosecution … We know that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor has been shooting buzzards, using a live eagle owl decoy to bring those buzzards into a position where the system is failing to protect our birds of prey and getting convictions remains a hugely challenging for all involved. It is another clear reason that the RSPB is urging for a system of licensing for grouse moors to be put in place, to bring more accountability to estate owners and managers. We believe had licensing been in place, the events we witnessed on this moor would be more than enough to revoke the estate’s licence to operate.”
- At least eight cats have been shot and injured in attacks in East Dunbarton, Greater Manchester, Kent, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Wiltshire. Two cats have been shot dead one in North Ayrshire and the other in the West Midlands and a further two cats, one in Merseyside and the other in Teesside were so seriously injured that they were put to sleep.
- One nesting swan and at least two other swans have been shot and killed in airgun attacks in Surrey and Wiltshire. A further swan has been blinded and another injured in attacks in Lincolnshire and Surrey and a swan had to be put to sleep after being shot at close range in the head in Norfolk. A horse has been shot and injured in West Sussex and the RSPCA is investigating after a dog, found dead in Kent, was found to have been tied up and apparently shot. A duck has been shot dead in East Yorkshire, a pigeon has been injured in a BB gun attack in Gwynedd, two pigeons are being treated at an animal rescue centre after being shot and injured in Lincolnshire, and a cormorant had to be put to sleep after being found shot in Essex.
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 about the failure to publish the outcome of a Home Office Review of air weapon regulations. In response, the Home Office has launched a further review, which, at the outset, clearly rejects licensing for airgun owners in England and Wales.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 59 reports in March 2021 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A man has been jailed for 24 years and his accomplice is due to be sentenced in April for two counts each of conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to endanger life and conspiracies to possess a firearm, ammunition and an explosive substance, as well as conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. The first man was also convicted of possession of criminal property. As part of an investigation into a drugs supply network, police officers raided the accomplice’s home in Kirkby, Merseyside in September 2019 and recovered five grenades, two revolvers, a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition, as well as drugs with a value of between £277,305 and £691,487. Cocaine with a value of up to £50,000 was seized from another gang member outside the property and £32,000 cash was recovered from a second house. A bomb squad was called in to deal with the cache of weapons. Forensic examinations linked the first man to three of the guns, a bag that had contained the grenades and to packaging surrounding the recovered drugs. As police closed in on the organised crime group, the first man fled to Spain. He was arrested on his return to the UK.
- A 34-year-old man has been jailed for five years after he pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing a firearm and a charge of possessing ammunition without a certificate. In July 2020, police officers discovered a site in Dartford where 200 cannabis plants were being grown. After the man’s DNA was recovered at the scene, officers searched his home in Bromley, South East London and found a revolver, six gold bullion bars and cash in a wardrobe, with several rounds of compatible ammunition being seized from a bag and a chest of drawers. A second firearm was discovered in the kitchen. The man claimed that the firearms had “come into his possession” through house-clearances carried out more than fifteen years previously and that he had retained them because he “thought they were interesting”. He also said that the gold and cash were from an inheritance and his life savings.
- A 32-year-old man has been handed a custodial sentence of eight years after pleading guilty to fifteen charges, including possession of firearms and making an explosive substance. Following an investigation between UK and Spanish police into people buying guns online, officers raided the man’s home in Kentish Town, North West London in October 2019 and discovered five loaded handguns, a sawn-off shotgun and a pump-action shotgun in his daughter’s bedroom. A further 21 firearms, explosives, gunpowder, ammunition, smoke grenades, blades and garrottes were also seized, along with fake Metropolitan Police and Interpol warrant card IDs, a counterfeit search warrant, Met body armour and a rejected application to join the force. It was discovered that the man had bought firearms from Spanish and Slovenian websites in the month before his arrest, selling on six of the weapons. On his arrest by Organised Crime Partnership officers, he said “It has become a bit of an addiction with these guns.”
- A man has been jailed for five year and five months after admitting three counts of possessing prohibited weapons. In March 2019, eight rifles and 1,000 rounds of ammunition were stolen by persons unknown from an Army Cadet Force centre in Newton-le-Willows. The man’s DNA was subsequently found on one of the stolen army assault rifles, as well as on a sawn-off shotgun and a semi-automatic pistol. One assault rifle was recovered during a police raid at a Merseyside property, while a sawn-off shotgun, along with three rounds of ammunition usually associated with semi-automatic pistols and submachine guns, were found at the man’s home in Liverpool, Merseyside. A further self-loading pistol was discovered at the Kirkby home of a man who had been the victim of a shooting.
- Three men have been jailed for their involvement in a shooting in Bromborough, Merseyside. The first, a 32-year-old, received twelve years and nine months after admitting inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent and possessing a firearm. The second, a 31-year-old, admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent and was jailed for seven-and-a-half years. A third man, aged 33, received seventeen months for assisting an offender. In June last year, he drove the other two to a drive-through restaurant, where, in front of witnesses including children, the first man got out of the vehicle and fired a gun twice at a man sitting in a car. The bullets went through the victim’s left buttock and right leg. He then drove the two away from the scene. The court heard that the second man had been aware of a plan to seriously harm the target but had not known a gun would be used while the driver believed he had been taking the others to buy drugs. Two men were arrested shortly afterwards while the third handed himself in after disposing of the firearm; the weapon has not been recovered. Following the attack, described as a “gangland vendetta”, the victim declined to make a victim statement.
- Two brothers associated with a gang known as the Linacre Young Guns have been jailed for the murder of a man at his home in Litherland, Merseyside. In a revenge attack after a brick was thrown at their mother’s house in April last year, the brothers went to the young man’s home, where one discharged a firearm twice through the kitchen window, fatally wounding the victim. The victim, who had been standing next to his father when he was shot, was pronounced dead a short time later in hospital. He had been wrongly targeted and had nothing to do with the earlier incident. One brother was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 30 years, while the other received life in prison with a minimum of 28 years after being found guilty of murder and possession of a firearm, with a concurrent sentence of five years for an unrelated firearms offence. The brothers’ uncle, their mother and a neighbour were all sentenced for perverting the course of justice. The trio had become involved “in the aftermath” of the attack by storing clothes and a bike and by damaging a phone.
- A 45-year-old man has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing a shotgun without a certificate. When the man was taken to a police station after a domestic incident in August 2020, he admitted to officers that he had a gun in a shed at his home in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Officers recovered a working sawn-off shotgun and discovered it was one of a cache of weapons that had been stolen from a gunsmith’s shop four months previously. The court heard that the man had been told to store the firearm by people of whom he was “scared” and that it had been shortened in his garden.
- A 37-year-old man has been jailed for three years after admitting possession of a firearm, possession of ammunition without a firearms certificate and possession of cannabis. In February last year, the man took a loaded pistol into a police station in Liverpool, Merseyside, claiming that he had found it while walking his dog. He was described as “extremely distressed” and found to be suffering a psychotic episode; he was treated in hospital before being returned to custody. After forensic testing subsequently revealed the man’s DNA on several parts of the firearm and on the cartridges, he told police that he had been asked to hold the gun for others and had felt “intimidated”. The court heard that the gun had been used in criminal activity in Liverpool, once in 2007, when its discharge caused a fractured tibia, and once in 2011. There was, however, no suggestion that the man had been involved in either incident. The judge found that the man’s mental illness amounted to exceptional circumstances, allowing him to reduce the minimum five-year sentence for such an offence.
- A man has been handed a sixteen-month custodial sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of possessing a firearm when prohibited for life. While the man was living at his grandmother’s house in Kirkby, Merseyside in March last year, she found a bolt action rifle in her home and told him she wanted it removed. Although he told his grandmother the gun was not real, text messages between them indicate she did not believe him. In fact, he had been storing the rifle as well as a shotgun for organised crime gangs, both weapons having been previously stolen from two firearms shops whilst he was in prison for drugs offences. Messages recovered from an encrypted phone network (Encrochat) during a National Crime Agency investigation revealed that the weapons were being sold on, though the man claimed not to have been involved in their onward transfer. In April last year, after police officers found the rifle during a drugs raid at a home, the man’s DNA was found on the trigger, trigger guard and magazine of the weapon. A semi- automatic pistol and ammunition were also recovered during the search. Three months later, officers searched a home in Everton and recovered a bag containing a shotgun, broken into its three parts, as well as a self-loading pistol and a revolver. The man’s DNA was found on the grip of the shotgun.
- A 29-year-old man has been jailed for two years after pleading guilty to twelve charges, including wilfully or recklessly destroying or damaging a CCTV camera by discharging a firearm, recklessly discharging an air rifle, striking a person with a pellet and possessing a number of firearms and ammunition without the relevant certification: a folding shotgun, rifle ammunition, a pistol, a rifle, an air rifle and four pneumatic air rifles. In February 2019, a security guard on patrol at Aberdeen Harbour, Scotland, felt something strike his chest. He subsequently found a metal pellet embedded in his jacket. The following evening, police found the suspect in possession of items including a night vision rifle scope after security guards saw him acting suspiciously at the harbour. On learning that the suspect worked at the site, officers searched sheds to which he had access and discovered the ammunition and the weapons listed above. The court heard that the man, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, had been a member of a gun club in England and had failed to alert the authorities about the weapons when he moved to Scotland. He claimed to have been using the weapons to shoot rats.
- A 26-year-old man has been sentenced to six years in prison after admitting affray, assault, threats with a bladed article, assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. In August last year, after taking anxiety medication and becoming paranoid about being hunted, the man went on a “rampage” in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He threw items at hotel staff, punched members of the public, threatened a man with a machete and pulled a sawn-off shotgun in front of another witness. Shortly afterwards, he smashed stock and pulled the shotgun from his bag at a petrol station after customers confronted him for threatening to stalk a worker who had refused to give him her telephone number. He went on to frighten people in a nearby park, including a man and his young grand-daughter. The man alerted police and managed to shepherd other people away from the area. Armed police officers shot the man with a projectile after he refused to obey orders and began walking towards them. The court heard that the man had got into drug debt with his ex-girlfriend’s family and had been holding the shotgun for them.
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: March 2021 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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