Keyham families demand firearms law changes after ‘catastrophic failures’

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The families of Keyham gunman Jake Davison’s victims have demanded an overhaul of the 50-year-old Firearms Act after accusing police of granting him “a licence to kill”.

They spoke out after an inquest jury found there was a “seriously unsafe culture” in Devon and Cornwall Police’s firearms licensing unit.

In just eight minutes Davison 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 upon himself as he was confronted by an unarmed police officer on August 12 2021 in Keyham, Plymouth.

They said: “It is beyond us how Davison, a man with a known history of violence, mental health issues, and with no real need to own a firearm, was granted a licence to possess a gun in the first place.

“Warning signs were ignored and a licence to kill was granted.”

They are now calling for a complete overhaul in firearms licensing.

“We hope that change can come so no other family has to endure the torment of what we have been, and still are, going through,” they added.

A street cleaner in Biddick Drive in the Keyham area of Plymouth, Devon, after the incident
Biddick Drive in the Keyham area of Plymouth (Ben Birchall/PA)

They were critical of the failings within the firearms licensing unit, which handed the apprentice crane operator back his shotgun five weeks before the killings.

The jury said: “There was a catastrophic failure in the management of the firearms and explosives licensing unit, with a lack of managerial supervision, inadequate and ineffective leadership.

“This was compounded by a lack of senior management and executive leadership who failed to notice or address the issues.

“There was a lack of scrutiny and professional curiosity at all levels.

“There was a seriously unsafe culture within the firearms and explosives licensing unit of defaulting to granting licences and to returning licences after review.”

Patrick Maguire, a partner at law firm HCC who is representing the families of the Keyham victims, speaking to the media (Ben Birchall/PA)
Patrick Maguire, a partner at law firm HCC who is representing the families of the Keyham victims, speaking to the media (Ben Birchall/PA)

The inquest heard the 22-year-old legally held a shotgun certificate and weapon having been obsessed with firearms from a young age due to a trait in autism of developing a “special interest”.

He applied for a shotgun certificate in July 2017 aged 18, saying he wanted to go clay pigeon shooting with his uncle.

As part of the application process, Davison had declared his autism and Asperger’s – but when police sought relevant information from his GP, the doctor declined to provide any as it was not mandatory.

The police granted the application in January 2018 to last five years.

Later that year, he bought a black Weatherby pump-action shotgun which he kept at home in Biddick Drive.

Plymouth incident
The Weatherby pump action shotgun, top, used by Jake Davison in the killings next to a standard sporting style 12-gauge shotgun (Plymouth HM Coroner/PA)

Aged 17 he was involved in a domestic verbal argument with his father Mark and was also suspected of an assault outside a Tesco store in 2016.

In September 2020, Davison was captured on CCTV punching a 16-year-old boy up to nine times in a skate park and slapping their 15-year-old female friend after another boy called him a “fat c***”.

Detectives did not know he was a firearms holder and put him on the deferred charge Pathfinder scheme instead of prosecution.

It was only two months later a concerned Pathfinder worker alerted police and the shotgun and certificate were seized.

But just five weeks before the killings, they were handed back to Davison.

Plymouth incident
Police officers on patrol in Keyham after the deadly incident (Ben Birchall/PA)

After killing his mother, Davison went into Biddick Drive and shot Mr Martyn and his daughter, then and walked into nearby Linear Park and killed dogwalker Mr Washington.

Mrs Shepherd was fatally shot outside a hair salon on Henderson Place.

As two unarmed officers tried to save her life, Davison returned with the shotgun nestled under his chin.

Risking his own life, Pc Zach Printer rushed towards him to try to make him surrender but Davison pulled the trigger – with his death captured on the officer’s body worn camera.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) made a string of recommendations, but no-one will lose their jobs as a result.

The force said it has 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.

Jake Davison killed five people and then turned the shotgun on himself (PA)
Jake Davison killed five people and then turned the shotgun on himself (PA)

He said: “I accept Devon and Cornwall Police has failed our communities in regard to Jake Davison, but had there been clearer national guidance, direction and specific legislation concerning firearms licensing – decision making locally may well have been very different.

“We must all take responsibility when mistakes have been made, but must also learn as police forces collectively to prevent future tragedies.”

Senior coroner Ian Arrow said he would be preparing a preventing future deaths report addressing his concerns.

A Home Office spokesman said: “This was a devastating tragedy and we thank the coroner for their investigation.

“Once received we will reflect on the coroner’s report, including any recommendations, and respond in due course.”

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