A change in the law in Britain to prevent criminals who receive suspended jail terms from holding a gun licence for five years should be introduced, a report into the killings of Derrick Bird recommended today.
The taxi driver, who shot dead 12 people in a shooting spree in west Cumbria, was sentenced 20 years ago to six months in prison suspended for a year when he was convicted of stealing decorating materials from his then employer.
He also had a drink-driving conviction and had been arrested over claims he demanded payment with menaces after a customer made off from his cab without paying.
But Bird, 52, was allowed to keep his shotgun certificate, which he acquired just short of his 17th birthday, because neither of his convictions warranted an immediate custodial sentence to trigger an automatic ban on him keeping guns.
An independent review ordered by Cumbria Constabulary today proposed that anyone who is handed a jail term of three months and upwards which is wholly suspended should be prohibited from possessing licensed weapons for five years.
Meanwhile, more details of Bird’s rampage were revealed, including his bid to retrieve one of his three shotguns, which he had transferred to another certificate holder the night before the events of June 2.
It emerged he tried to recover the gun shortly after he committed the first two murders, killing his solicitor Kevin Commons and his twin brother David.
Bird went to the person’s house and a two-minute conversation followed before he was refused access to the gun and went on his way towards Whitehaven.
The Chief Constable of Cumbria Constabulary, Craig Mackey, said he did not believe the person was aware of the gunman’s crazed intentions and said the event would be explored further at next year’s inquest into the shootings.
Police also said Bird fired a total of 54 rounds of ammunition from the two weapons he used in the attacks – 23 rounds from his .22 rifle and 31 12-gauge rounds from his side-by-side hammer action shotgun which he illegally shortened the barrels of in the hours before the murders.
Bird, of Rowrah, Cumbria, also injured 11 others in his spree before turning his gun on himself.
The review by the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) Firearms and Licensing Working Group, Adrian Whiting, ruled that “no reasonable opportunities” within the licensing system could have prevented the killings.
It said Cumbria Constabulary and other relevant agencies had no information prior to the rampage which should reasonably have led to the seizure of Bird’s three shotguns and a .22 rifle which he successfully applied to use as a firearm for pest control in 2007.
It concluded that Bird had fulfilled all “necessary requirements for issue” and all appropriate inquiries were made, including home visits.
The force’s firearms licensing procedures were “robust” and in line with the law and Home Office guidance, the Assistant Chief Constable of Dorset Police added.
His recommendation to attach prohibited person status to wholly suspended sentences of imprisonment was “very much influenced” by the Cumbria shootings.
“I cannot say it would have made a difference in this case but it would have been another significant factor to take into account,” he said.
In his report he stated: “Of course Derrick Bird would have been eligible to have made a fresh application for grant well ahead of the events of 2010 but the fact that he would have once been prohibited would have been a specific consideration in any such decision to grant again.”
Mr Whiting recommended Acpo support the proposal, which would then be passed to the Government for review.
He also said a key improvement would be to establish formal data links between GPs, mental health and police services to enable medical professionals to be in a position to alert police to any concerns over gun certificate holders.
A formal requirement could be put in place for doctors to be notified of an application for grant or renewal of a licence. Currently they do not hold that information unless the patient volunteers it.
He also suggested that police make a formal inquiry of family members of an applicant regarding their suitability.
Home Office Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire said: “I would like to thank Adrian Whiting for his report and we will carefully consider his recommendations.”
Commenting on the report, Mr Mackey said: “I wanted Derrick Bird’s victims, the families of those who were killed, the local community and our police officers and staff to be confident that our firearms licensing procedures were robust and fit for purpose.
“ACC Whiting’s review has confirmed that Bird owned his firearms lawfully and that we could not have used our firearms licensing process to identify him as a risk or prevent the tragic shootings in west Cumbria.”
A second independent review to examine how Cumbria Constabulary reacted on June 2 and the resources they deployed is due to report back in January.
An inquest into the deaths of Bird and his 12 victims is then likely to be held before the anniversary of the shootings.
Mr Mackey said that a file containing 2,000 potential witness statements was being prepared for the west Cumbria coroner.
He said more than 1,600 calls were made to the force’s control room on the day and 900 calls came through to its casualty bureau.