A review into firearms licencing at Devon and Cornwall Police has found the force “must stop” its “extraordinarily high reliance” of issuing temporary permits for guns.
The police watchdog – His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) – was asked to carry out an urgent review by the home secretary following the mass shooting in Keyham, Plymouth in 2021, which left six dead including gunman Jake Davison.
Inquests into the deaths in February found Davison’s victims were unlawfully killed and that there was a “catastrophic” failure in the management of the firearms unit which led to the 22-year-old having his gun returned to him just weeks before the attack.
HMICFRS says Devon and Cornwall Police has made “significant” progress and improvements, but it has concerns over the backlog of licences and the “improper” use of temporary permits.
It says that as of 19 May 2023, the force had responsibility for the largest number of firearms licences of all forces in England and Wales, including nearly 3,700 temporary permits which should only be issued in exceptional circumstances.
The inspectorate found another similar sized firearms unit at a different force had granted just ten temporary permits and that Devon and Cornwall Police’s use of them to manage demand “goes against statutory guidance and must stop”.
It also concluded that the force has a “substantial backlog” of applications for renewals of licences because of inefficient processes and unreliable IT systems.
In its report, the watchdog found that the force has implemented four of the five IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) recommendations and has “significantly invested” in staffing the firearms unit, increasing the number of posts from 45 to 99.
His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said: “The mass shooting in Plymouth was a tragic event. My thoughts remain with the victims and their families, and everyone in the local community who was affected.
“Since 2021, Devon and Cornwall Police has made significant improvements across its firearms licensing department. However, issues remain with its licences backlog and misuse of temporary permits. We are pleased the force is in the process of developing a plan to address these issues.
“This is absolutely vital to ensure that gun licences are issued correctly, thereby protecting the public and reducing the risk of tragic events like the one in Plymouth ever happening again.”
In response to the report, Devon and Cornwall Police Assistant Chief Constable Jim Pearce said: “I welcome today’s review from HMICFRS into the progress the Force has made against the recommendations issued by the IOPC and the Prevention of Future Deaths Report following the tragic events in Keyham, Plymouth.
“I am pleased the Review recognises that the Force has now fully implemented four of the five recommendations and highlights positive areas such as leadership, a clear governance structure and decision making and investment in training and new systems.
“I acknowledge that there is still work to do particularly in our backlog of renewal of firearms licenses and our use of temporary permits.
“The safety of our communities across Devon and Cornwall remains our priority and we are absolutely focused on delivering a safe, efficient and sustainable firearms licensing service.”
The report comes just days after the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police was suspended over misconduct allegations.