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Improvements made to "DIY" Firearms Licensing Unit
A DISTURBING picture of a Firearms Licensing Unit run on a "DIY" basis which was “not fit for purpose” was painted during the inquest into the Horden shootings.
Durham Police had no formal training and no clear decision-making process capable of being reviewed, despite the small team being responsible for granting and monitoring licences for up to 6,900 people in the force area.
In the immediate aftermath of the Horden deaths police identified concerns surrounding at least 400 licence holders.
When all the names were put through the police system to see if more could be disclosed, the net was widened to 970 people, for issues ranging from domestic abuse to street searches and nuisance behaviour.
This led to 118 people having their licences revoked.
Chillingly, the hearing was told how just over a month after the Horden shootings, police in Darlington received a call from woman saying her partner had assaulted her.
Two days later they got a call from same person complaining of domestic violence. Police dealt with the matter and left.
What was not picked up by officers or radio control was that he was a firearms certificate holder – and a potential danger.
It was only half an hour later when police received information from an anonymous source that the weapon and certificate were seized and revoked.
An internal review made 13 recommendations.
Since the tragedy police have a new intelligence system which was not in place when Atherton was arrested.
There are also direct links from the police command and control system to the firearms licensing system which allows for “real-time dynamic risk assessments against licence and certificate holders".
Firearms licensing officers also do spot checks and have an audit trail of record-keeping.
Nicholas Long, commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said: "Had just one person obtained a complete picture of Atherton’s history as a perpetrator of domestic violence, many incidents occurring whilst he was under the influence of alcohol, then it may have alerted police to a pattern of behaviour which required far greater scrutiny.
"It is beyond doubt that Durham Constabulary missed valuable opportunities to assess his suitability to be granted a licence and remain a gun owner”.
Speaking after today’s inquest, Durham Police Deputy Chief Constable Michael Banks said: “We acknowledge the coroner’s findings and will be giving immediate consideration to his comments.
“We have acted on the findings of the IPCC and in terms of their lessons learned report and also acknowledge there were no findings of misconduct on individuals making decisions in the firearms applications process.”
He added: “We acknowledge that a shotgun licensed by Durham Constabulary was used to take lives and we deeply regret that.
“There is nothing that we can do that can bring back Susan, Alison,Tanya and indeed Michael, but since that tragic day we have reviewed our systems and procedures for firearms licensing.
“It is our sincere belief that our new robust approach will reduce the risk of granting licences to unsuitable people.”