Families of gunshot victims say 'they'd be alive today' if laws were tightened

ITV News reporter Chlöe Oliver speaks to families fighting for tougher UK gun laws. They say changes are imminently needed in the wake of the Epsom College tragedy.

The family of a woman who was shot dead by her partner alongside her two daughters in Sussex say she would still be alive today if gun licensing laws were stricter.

Robert Needham, 42, shot and killed Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and their daughters Ava and Lexi Needham, four and two, at their home in Woodmancote, in March 2020, before killing himself.

He had been granted a gun license, despite being previously diagnosed with depression.

Now Kelly's family are calling for an overhaul of how guns are licensed in the UK, it follows a number of tragic incidents involving guns since the family's deaths nearly three years ago, including the most recent at Epsom College.

Kelly’s twin sister Emma Ambler set up the Kelly Fitzgibbons Foundation in her memory, calling for reforms to gun laws, and was due to meet with the Home Office to campaign for these changes.

She believes that if Needham had been refused a gun licence, her sister and nieces would still be alive.

However, the meeting has been pushed back until “later in the spring” – and Mrs Ambler says delays can cost lives.

Her comments come after the shooting of Epsom College headteacher Emma Pattison, her husband George Pattison and their seven-year-old daughter Lettie in Surrey on Sunday 5 February.

Mr Pattinson's legally-owned gun was found at their home in the school grounds.

Emma Pattison, 45, and her daughter were killed on the grounds of Epsom College, where she was headteacher. Credit: Surrey Police/PA

The Home Office said the UK had some of the strictest controls in the world.

However, campaign groups say the system is broken and are calling for more stringent checks on gun owners.

Robert Needham claimed he purchased the licence so he could shoot rabbits - but Kelly's stepmother Pam Fitzgibbons said that can't be true: "A gun that will fire six shots, why do you need that to shoot rabbits?"

"You don't."

"No checks were done, and as far as we know he never shot any rabbits. We believe he got that gun for that reason only. So if he hadn't have got a firearms licence, it's likely our family would still be alive today."

Pam Fitzgibbons tells ITV News Kelly could have been saved, if stricter gun control laws had been in place

"He was even allowed to upgrade from a shotgun to a firearms licence, and he purchased the gun he used to kill the family only nine days before he killed them," Pam added.

The Gun Control Network - which is a group of families, lawyers and academics - want a more rigorous system.

They want to see an annual review of gun licences instead of the current five years, which Kelly's family supports.

Pam continued: "Anything could happen in five years. It is much too long to wait for a check or review. We think it is important that it is reduced to annual checks."

A coroner at the inquest into their deaths ruled Kelly and her daughters were unlawfully killed.

The inquest heard Robert Needham lied on his shotgun application to Sussex Police in 2016 about a caution for theft which could have been picked up if his application had been scrutinised.

Other families whose lives have been ruined by gun crime across the country - are calling on the government to overhaul gun licensing laws as campaign groups say the “broken” system is needlessly putting lives at risk. 

They want independent oversight, as opposed to it being down to each individual police force and a national gun hotline to record concerns.

On New Years Day in Horden County Durham, an argument broke out between Bobby Hardman's sister and her partner.

Atherton killed his partner Susan, Alison and Tanya at a home in Horden near Peterlee in County Durham in January 2012.

Michael Atherton picked up a gun he had prepared for a shoot the next day and used it to kill his partner, her sister and niece.

It later emerged that he had legally owned six weapons, despite a history of domestic violence.

Durham police have said the shooting prompted a huge change in the force’s procedures.

11 years since the death of his sisters and niece, Bobby is calling for urgent changes before more tragedies happen.

'I would do anything to have them back,' Bobby Hardman tells ITV News

Peter Squires is a Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton and a member of the Gun Control Network.

He said: "Over time, research and policing has detected all sorts of loopholes where gun owners have gone off the rails and misused their guns violently.

"There are cracks in the system. People are falling through the loopholes. Tragedy can often result and we've seen too often of these recently."

Professor Peter Squires explains the 'loopholes' in the UK's gun laws

According to the Office for National Statistics, there has been 8,000 firearm offences in the last year - resulting in more than 1,000 injuries and 31 deaths. 

There are 1.3 million licensed shotguns in the UK and half a million firearms. Most of those are used safely and responsibly for sport.

The Gun Control Network want to see people who lie on applications banned from owning guns, a closer relationship between GPs and police forces, and more stringent checks on gun owners.

The Home Office is currently reviewing a Domestic Homicide report which is likely to include recommendations around gun licensing, including better communication with GPs and more frequent checks on gun licensees.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, but we keep them under constant review, to ensure those with legal access to firearms use them safely, and to ensure criminals do not gain access to firearms.

"That is why we have brought in new Statutory Guidance for firearms licensing which means police must carry out robust checks on public safety grounds and ensure that they are consistently applied by all police forces."