Thursday, 2 June 2011

West Cumbria Shootings - one year on ...

A year has passed since the terrible events in Cumbria on 2nd June 2010 when Derrick Bird killed 12 people.  They are being remembered at services in West Cumbria - BBC 2nd June.  At the time it was, rightly, urged that there should be no knee-jerk reaction by rushing to amend the law.  What has happened since?

In December 2010, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee issued a report - here.  The Inquests into the deaths returned verdicts of unlawful killing and the Coroner made 3 recommendations.  There are also two reports by Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting of the Dorset Police - Part 1 and Part 2.

Whiting did not make any specific recommendations for
legislative changes such as would have prevented these events but he made some recommendations aimed at improving public safety and an important point emerges from the Part 2 report.  In 1990, Derrick Bird was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment suspended for two years.  Under the Firearms Act 1968 s.21. a person sentenced to 3 months imprisonment but less than 3 years may not possess a firearm for 5 years from date of release.  A person sentenced to 3 years imprisonment or more is subject to a life ban.  Of course, Bird was not subject to a ban in 2010 and never was the subject of ban.  Nevertheless, ACC Whiting noted that the definition of prohibited person does not include cases where the imprisonment is suspended and recommended that ACPO support a change to the law to close this gap.  This could be especially important given that there is a certain pressure on courts not to send offenders to prison.  One outcome of such pressure is that more sentences of imprisonment become suspended.  The House of Commons Select Committee report agreed with the proposal that those given suspended sentences should be subject to the same restrictions as those who are actually imprisoned - (paras 68-74  of the Select Committee report).

The other Conclusions and recommendations of the Select Committee are important and include codification and simplification of the law; Police to take into account certain conduct which does not result in a conviction (e.g. a Bind Over or a call out to a Domestic Violence incident); a single system for licensing of section 1 firearms and shotguns with applicants having to show "good reason", updating of Police Guidance and re-naming it an Approved Code of Practice to give it greater weight with the courts; amendment to the law relating to young people shooting at ranges and certain recommendations relating to imitation firearms and their conversion to firing weapons.

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