The families of those who died during the Keyham shootings have spoken of their disappointment that the police force which gave the killer his shotgun certificate back weeks before the massacre continues to place the public at risk.
In just eight minutes, Jake Davison, 22, killed his mother Maxine, 51, and then shot dead three-year-old Sophie Martyn, her father Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66.
He then turned the weapon on himself as he was confronted by an unarmed police officer on August 12 2021 in Keyham, Plymouth.
A review by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services said improvements have been made to Devon and Cornwall Police’s firearms licensing unit but concerns remained over a backlog in processing applications and the improper use of temporary permits.
Lawyer Patrick Maguire, who represents the Martyn, Washington and Shepherd families, said: “We are extremely disappointed that, despite the jury at the inquest concluding that there were catastrophic failures within the firearms licensing unit of the Devon and Cornwall Police, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary flag issues that the force continues to place the public at risk.
“When the descriptors used by HMIC include words such as ‘inefficient, inadequate, improper and inappropriate’ it should be obvious to everyone that more work needs to be done to prevent anything like this happening again.
“We are disgusted that Devon and Cornwall Police have not implemented all of the coroner and Independent Office for Police Conduct’s recommendations.
“How many more people need to needlessly die before they do things properly?
“We had hoped that our loved ones’ deaths would not be in vain and that the force would do absolutely everything they could to prevent future deaths from happening.
“This does not appear to be the case.
“Nobody should be reassured by vague indications of progress having been made by Devon and Cornwall Police.
“The public want actions and not words. Until then, firearms licences will continue to get into the hands of unsuitable people.
“As families, we are united in calling for more fundamental change to the way firearms licences are granted in this country so that no other family has to endure the torment and grief we have been and are still going through.”
The police inspectorate was commissioned in April to undertake an urgent review of the force’s progress in implementing recommendations made by the IOPC and comments made by a coroner in their prevention of future deaths report.
Earlier this year an inquest jury criticised failings within the force’s firearms licensing unit, which handed the apprentice crane operator his shotgun back.
Meanwhile, Ian Arrow, the senior coroner for Plymouth, called for a “root and branch” reform of the UK’s gun laws to protect the public.
He said the 50-year-old Firearms Act was at “odds with public safety and the fundamental principle that owning a gun is a privilege and not a right” and called for the legislative distinction between Section 1 firearms – such as rifles – and shotguns to be ended.
Inspectors said the force had made positive changes in several areas to improve its ability to assess a person’s suitability to possess firearms, including introducing a new management structure, hiring more staff and delivering extensive training.
They said the force had implemented four of the five IOPC recommendations and made substantial progress on the comments made by the coroner.
But they had concerns about the force’s backlog of applications for licences, which had been caused by inefficient processes, inadequate IT systems and the force not taking legitimate opportunities to reduce demand.
And they highlighted the force’s inappropriate use of temporary permits, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances.
They found temporary permits were being used to help manage volumes, which they said is against statutory guidance and must stop.
Devon and Cornwall Police have invested £4 million in the firearms licensing unit since the tragedy, with 100 staff handling the highest number of gun licence applications of any force in England and Wales.
Assistant Chief Constable Jim Pearce, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “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 licences 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.”