Gun guidance ‘not enough’

Alison Turnbull with son Bobby.
Alison Turnbull with son Bobby.

NEW police guidance on issuing firearms licences is “not good enough”, says the son of a gun massacre victim.

Individuals with a history of domestic violence should not be allowed to possess a firearm or shotgun, according to new Home Office guidance published yesterday.

It also says that every incident of domestic violence should prompt a police review of whether a certificate holder should be allowed to hold a firearm without posing a danger to the public.

The new guidance will form part of the Firearms Guide, which police forces use when deciding whether to grant a certificate to an applicant.

Bobby Turnbull, whose mum Alison, 44, sister Tanya, 24, and aunt Susan McGoldrick, 47, were shot dead by Susan’s partner Michael Atherton, 42, before he turned the gun on himself, in Horden on New Year’s Day last year has been campaigning for these changes.

But he says guidance will not be as effective as enshrining the changes in law.

Hartlepool Golf Club worker Bobby, 24, who lives in Blackhall, said: “I’m pleased it’s been issued, but a few tweaks in the guidelines is nowhere near as good enough as legislation would be.”

Policing minister Damian Green, who has met with Bobby to discuss the amendments, said chances in obtaining a gun licence for domestic violence perpertrators would be “greatly diminished”.

“This new Home Office guidance clearly sets out a process which police forces should follow when considering an application from someone with a history of domestic violence,” he added.

But an inquest in March into the deaths heard Durham Police licensing unit officers, who issued Atherton’s licences had no formal training, and Durham Police Chief Constable Mike Barton had told the hearing that prior to the shootings the unit was too focused on administration and not enough on investigating whether applicants should be granted licences.

Chief Inspector Steve Ball, of the unit, said a review has been done since the tragedy and work carried out has helped shaped the new guidance, to help consistency.

But Bobby said: “Police don’t have to use guidelines. In the case of what happened with my family, police didn’t abide by the guidelines, and it’s going to be the same across the country.”

The guidance states:

l When police officers receive information about an applicant having a history of domestic violence, they should consider interviewing their family, friends and associates;

l Speaking to the applicant’s partner – who might be a victim of abuse – may be judged to be “essential”;

l The information the partner gives must be treated confidentially and police would need to take steps to make sure they are safe from possible reprisals;

l The partner would not have to approve an application for a firearms certificate that responsibility would still lie with the police, who would also consult their own force’s domestic violence unit.

The guidance also says police would not have to rely on a criminal conviction for domestic violence when considering applications. They would be able to consider police intelligence about an incident, looking at how recent it was and whether it was isolated or part of a pattern.