February 2023 Review
by Gun Control Network on 10-03-2023
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 February 2023 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 February 2023.
Figure 1: February 2023 incident reports by type
We monitor FATAL GUN INCIDENTS in Great Britain and compile lists that summarise the available information. Our summaries for 2017 to 2022 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We are aware of two reports in February 2023 concerning four gun deaths:
- A man has died after being shot in Erith, East London. It is thought that assailants wearing balaclavas fired shots at the victim following a car chase. No arrests have yet been reported.
- A man reportedly fatally shot his wife, his daughter and himself with his legally-held shotgun at their home in Epsom, Surrey. The gun was found at the scene. The man had been in contact with Surrey Police just days before the incident in order to register a change of address for his gun licence. The force referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) due to this contact but an IOPC spokesperson subsequently said that no investigation was required in relation to this communication.
We are aware of three reports in February 2023 concerning the verdict of inquests into seven gun deaths:
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man who shot himself in August last year has recorded a verdict of suicide. The man, a former Metropolitan Police officer who had been sacked after being jailed for a violent crime, was employed to test new firearms at the UK’s gun regulator, the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, in London. Given direct access to firearms, the man took one of them home and shot himself in the head. The inquest heard that the man’s employer had been told he had no convictions or cautions on his record during a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, conducted when he was hired. The coroner has completed a Prevention of Future Deaths report and has written to Scotland Yard and the DBS, highlighting this “critical failure”.
- An inquest jury has concluded that a man, who shot himself with his own legally-held shotgun in Plymouth, Devon in August 2021, died by suicide. The man fatally shot five people, and injured two others, before turning the weapon on himself. He had been granted a shotgun licence in 2018, despite having a history of violence. He had autism and Asperger Syndrome, both conditions having been declared on his application. His shotgun, removed in 2020 after he assaulted a teenage boy, was returned to his possession shortly before the killings.
- An inquest jury has concluded that five people, fatally shot in Plymouth, Devon, were unlawfully killed. In August 2021, a 22-year-old man killed his mother with his legally-held shotgun at their home before shooting dead a man and his 3-year-old daughter on the street outside. Further down the road, he shot and injured a man and a woman before fatally shooting a man on nearby parkland. After shooting dead another woman in a nearby street, the man killed himself with his gun. The inquest heard that the shooter had been granted a shotgun licence in 2018, despite having a history of violence. The man’s shotgun and firearms certificate were seized by police in 2020 after he assaulted a teenage boy but were handed back to him five weeks before the killings. The jury found that “serious failings by Devon and Cornwall Police contributed to the deaths of all five victims and concluded there was a seriously unsafe culture within the firearms licensing unit”. The coroner told the jury that he would be writing a Prevention of Future Deaths report on a number of issues including “training for firearms licensing staff, the differences on licensing shotguns and firearms, fees for licensing and mandatory markers on health records”.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of five reports in February 2023 that we believe to relate to the above:
- See Gun Deaths above — A man reportedly fatally shot his wife, his daughter and himself with his legally-held shotgun at their home in Surrey.
- See Inquests above — A Jury concluded that 5 victims were unlawfully killed in Devon in August 2021. One of the victims was the perpetrator’s mother.
- A man has been cleared of culpable homicide after accidentally killing his friend with a shotgun on a pigeon shooting trip. In March 2019, the two men were among a group taken to an estate in Inchture, Perthshire by a sporting agent. The men were given a shotgun each and asked to share a hide. The only instruction given was not to aim towards a road. Shortly after the agent left to buy petrol, the man accidentally shot his friend in the back of the head, killing him instantly. The court heard that as the man aimed for a bird, his friend had risen up in front of him about a metre away. The man did not have a valid visitor's gun licence because the agent was not on site when the accident occurred. An expert witness said that two people shooting from the same hide could be “extremely dangerous”.
- A 37-year-old man has been jailed for ten-and-a-half years, with an extended licence of five years, after pleading guilty to two counts of robbery and two counts of possessing an imitation firearm. In May last year, the man brandished a firearm at a cashier in a bank in Bootle, Merseyside and threatened to shoot unless she put money into his bag. After another worker pressed the panic alarm, staff and customers ran towards the exit. He fired his gun twice, with one shot hitting the ceiling, before fleeing empty-handed. Two days later, he produced the gun at a post office and demanded money. When the postmaster saw the cashier being threatened, he closed the till and told the assailant it could not be accessed. On hearing the alarm ringing, the man pointed the firearm at the postmaster’s head before running off. He was arrested shortly afterwards and a blank-firing gun was recovered from his bag, along with numerous rounds of 9mm blanks. The court heard that three of the victims thought they were going to die and have since received counselling. A restraining order barring him from contacting the victims and from visiting either the bank or the post office was implemented until further notice.
- A 31-year-old man has been jailed for 25-and-a-half months after pleading guilty to false imprisonment and assault by beating. In July last year, he forced a woman he knew to remain at his home in Cardiff, South Wales after she told him she wanted to leave. He went on to put what looked like a handgun to his head and inside his mouth, while threatening to kill himself. The woman managed to escape but he followed her and tried to drag her back inside. She was rescued by a friend, who was assaulted by the man as she tried to push him away. The man was also made subject to a restraining order for five years.
Licensed/Former Licensed Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition, and Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least ten reports in February 2023 that we believe to relate to the above:
- See Gun Deaths above — A man reportedly fatally shot his wife, his daughter and himself with his legally-held shotgun at their home in Surrey.
- See Inquests above — A Jury concluded that 5 victims were unlawfully killed in Devon in August 2021. The perpetrator was a licensed firearms owner.
- An inquest jury has concluded that a man, who shot himself with his own legally-held shotgun in Devon in August 2021, died by suicide.
- The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide at the inquest into the death of a former Metropolitan Police Officer who used a gun taken from his employers, the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers in London.
- See Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator above — A man accidentally killed his friend with a shotgun provided by a sporting agent on a pigeon shooting trip on an estate in Inchture, Perthshire.
- A 48-year-old former Metropolitan Police officer from London has been handed 36 life sentences, to serve a minimum of 32 years, after pleading guilty to 49 charges, including 24 counts of rape, nine counts of sexual assault, five counts of assault by penetration, three counts of coercive and controlling behaviour, three counts of false imprisonment, two counts of attempted rape, one count of attempted sexual assault by penetration, one count of causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent and one count of indecent assault. Over a seventeen-year period, the man subjected twelve victims to a “catalogue of violent and brutal sexual offences” including holding a handgun to the head of one victim before raping her. On sentencing, the judge said, “These convictions represent a spectacular downfall for a man charged with upholding the law and empowered to do so even to the extent of being authorised to bear a firearm in the execution of his duty.”
- A 28-year-old man has been jailed for 35 months after pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, making an indecent image of a child and attempting to engage in sexual activity with a child. In November last year, the man discharged a realistic blank-firing gun inside a shop in Doncaster, South Yorkshire before running towards responding firearms officers while holding the weapon. A police firearm was discharged, hitting the man and causing an injury that required hospital treatment. The incident was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The man will be placed on the Sex Offenders Register for ten years.
- A 54-year-old man has been handed a suspended fifteen-week prison term and ordered to pay fines and compensation after admitting seven offences. Following reports of suspected bird poisonings on an estate where he was a gamekeeper, a multi-agency investigation led to a search at his home in Wimborne, Dorset. Police officers found prohibited toxins, a loaded shotgun propped up behind his kitchen door and 55 rounds of ammunition in a shed. The ammunition was not covered by his firearms certificate. The corpses of six buzzards, shot dead, were found by a pen behind his house and the remains of at least three more buzzards were found on a bonfire. The man admitted two counts of possessing a live or dead wild bird under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, two charges of failing to comply with the conditions of a firearms certificate, using a biocidal product in contravention of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, possessing an unlawful substance under the Plant Protection Products Regulations 2012 and possessing a regulated substance without a licence under the Poisons Act 1972.
- Two air rifles and a motocross bike have been stolen during a burglary at a home in Clifton-upon-Teme, Worcestershire.
- Two shotguns have been stolen from a home in Mamble, Worcestershire. Police are linking the robbery to an earlier burglary in the area where two air rifles were stolen. A police spokesperson said, “These offenders are targeting isolated properties in the Herefordshire and Worcestershire area... We will not rest until we have bought these offenders to justice.”
We are aware of at least three reports in February 2023 involving the use of police Tasers:
- A police officer Tasered and arrested a man who allegedly threatened shop staff with needles in Solihull, West Midlands.
- Armed police officers were deployed following a report that a group of youths with knives and a gun had been spotted at a fast-food restaurant in Ilford, East London. Officers recovered one gun from a male as he left the restaurant, while a second gun was seized from the group inside. Five males were arrested, with one being Tasered as he was detained.
- Police officers Tasered and arrested a man in East Cowes, Isle of Wight after he allegedly caused a disturbance on a ferry.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least thirteen reports in February 2023 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun:
- See Licensed/Former Licensed Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition, and Stolen Guns and Ammunition above — A gamekeeper on an estate in Dorset has been handed a suspended sentence after failing to comply with the conditions of a firearm certificate, the discovery of a number of dead buzzards, and other charges.
- A cat has died after being shot in the abdomen with an air rifle in Carlisle, Cumbria. The cat’s owner reported hearing of five other similar shootings in the area. An RSPCA spokesperson said, “The RSPCA is appalled that people take pleasure from cruelly and deliberately targeting animals in this way but sadly, these types of incidents are not uncommon. In 2021, we received 454 calls about animals being shot, injured or killed with air guns — the majority of these concerned cats or wildlife… We continue to call for stricter regulations around owning an airgun in both England and Wales. Better education, basic safety training for owners and a thorough explanation of the law — including our legal obligations towards animals — could help protect countless animals from these horrible attacks in the future.”
- A cat has been left seriously injured after being shot with an air gun in Kent; a second is recovering from surgery after being shot with an air gun in Powys, and a further two cats have been put to sleep after being shot with an air gun in Shropshire.
- A pigeon was put to sleep after being shot and badly injured in Essex; a buzzard has been put to sleep after being shot in Kent. Buzzards are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and police have urged anyone with information to contact them. Several gulls are being treated at a wildlife sanctuary after being found in Staffordshire with wounds caused by an air gun, and a red kite is being treated at a wildlife hospital after “falling from the sky” in South East London. X-rays revealed the bird had several shotgun pellets lodged in its body.
- The “rotting carcasses” of shot pheasants, ducks and geese have been found dumped on the Otley Wetlands Nature Reserve, West Yorkshire, some of them having had their breast meat removed.
- Police appealed for information after a dog was shot near his home in Builth Wells, Powys. The dog sustained serious injuries and lost the sight of one eye.
- An animal, described only as a “wild mammal”, had to be put to sleep after it was shot in Leeds, West Yorkshire earlier this month. A second incident, involving a wild bird being shot and injured, has also been reported.
- A 62-year-old man from Skegness, Lincolnshire, has been handed a suspended eight-month prison term and a twelve-month community order with twenty rehabilitation days after pleading guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and an unrelated charge of assaulting his mother-in-law. After the man shot his dog in the head and body five times with an air rifle for refusing to get into its bed, it was found “cowering and bleeding” under a chest of drawers. He claimed that the dog had previously bitten his wife and others. The man was disqualified from owning an animal for two year and ordered to pay £824.38 compensation to his wife for vet’s fees and £272 in costs and victim surcharge.
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, Cats Protection, other organisations and individuals are calling for similar legislation in England and Wales after 300,000+ members of the public petitioned in favour of airgun licensing.
The recently published Government Response to a further Consultation, sent predominantly to shooting organisations but not to women’s organisations or those supporting victims of domestic violence, has concluded not to license airguns in England and Wales.
Border Force and National Crime Agency
We are not aware of any reports in February 2023 relating to the above.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 37 reports in February 2023 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A 22-year-old man and a 21-year-old man have been jailed for five years and five years, seven months, respectively, after admitting possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of ammunition without a firearms certificate. After a man (previously sentenced) converted six blank-firing weapons to be capable of firing live rounds, he sold one of them to the younger man. Police officers recovered this gun just three days later at the man’s home address in Corby, Northamptonshire. His DNA was retrieved from the weapon, which had already been fired. The following month, a loaded pistol was recovered from the garden of 22-year-old man’s home, as well as an imitation firearm and an imitation machine gun. He claimed to have taken the pistol from the seller's home, believing it to be a pellet gun. The younger man further admitted several drug offences.
- A 24-year-old man has been handed a suspended sentence of nine months after pleading guilty to two offences of possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and one of dangerous driving. In August last year, the 24-year-old got out of his car in Paignton, Devon and pointed a realistic airsoft rifle at a man who had called him an insulting name. He threatened to shoot the man before driving off. Later he aimed the airsoft rifle at the driver of another car. That driver and his partner believed the gun to be real, while their young son was left in tears thinking he was about to be shot. The court heard that the 24-year-old had been going through a difficult time in his personal life when he committed the offence and has since been diagnosed with ADHD and autism.
- Two men, both aged 23, have been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murder, possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life and perverting the course of justice. In January 2021, the first man fired a revolver from a car driven by the other man, hitting a man outside his home in Dudley, West Midlands. The victim was taken to hospital where he died the following day. The court heard that the attack resulted from years of feuding between two families. Five other defendants were cleared of murder, with one of them being jailed for five years for perverting the course of justice.
- After admitting possessing an air weapon in a public place, impersonating a police constable and making a statement suggesting that he was a police constable, an 18-year-old man was handed a twelve-month community order, with ten rehabilitation activity days and 50 hours unpaid work, and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £114 victim surcharge. In August last year, the man was seen dressed in a police vest, holding a firearm and speaking into a radio in Pennar, Pembrokeshire. He told members of the public that he worked for the Met and was looking for someone. He was seen looking through gardens and heard calling out, “Armed police, armed police, get down.” The court heard that he had just been “messing about” and talking to his brother on a walkie-talkie. A destruction order was made for the gun, the ballistic vest and the helmet.
- A 39-year-old man has been jailed for 20 years, with an extended five years on licence, after being found guilty of manslaughter and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, and pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice and two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon. In October 2021, the man accidentally discharged a submachine gun as he got into the back seat of a car in Hillingdon, West London, killing the front seat passenger. The man and his victim were with two others, including a teenage boy, when the shooting occurred. The 39-year-old dumped the man’s body on a nearby roadside and the teenager later set the car alight. The second man received five years and four months for perverting the course of justice and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, while the teenager was handed a two-year youth rehabilitation order for the first charge only.
- A 35-year old man and a 28-year-old man have been jailed for five years, seven months and five years, three months, respectively, after admitting possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine with intent to supply. In June last year, police officers responding to a report of suspicious behaviour in Margate, Kent saw the older man pass a bag to the other man. The younger man was apprehended in a car nearby and the bag was found to contain a pistol and cocaine with a street value of up to £20,000. The older man, who had left the scene on foot, was also quickly detained. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said, “I am pleased a weapon which could have been used to threaten or harm people in Kent has been removed from the streets, along with Class A drugs whose sale would have benefited a criminal network.”
- A 25-year-old woman has been handed an eighteen-week suspended prison term with twenty rehabilitation activity requirement days after admitting a string of offences, including harassing and assaulting two neighbours in Llandrindod Wells, Powys and assaulting a police officer. In December 2022, the woman fired a BB gun at one neighbour, hitting her in the leg. She also assaulted and harassed her and a second neighbour with incidents such as throwing stones, cutting off the electricity to one home and directing children to post offensive Christmas cards through a letter box. She had previously kicked a police officer who had called to arrest her for an unrelated matter. In a victim impact statement, one of the victims said, “I don’t want to live here anymore, I don’t feel safe in my own home.”
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: February 2023 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 air gun 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. See Gun Deaths, a woman and her daughter shot by a licensed gun owner in Epsom Surrey. The Home Office fails to publish data regarding the number of Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition involved in non-fatal crime. 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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