A man who shot and killed five people in Plymouth before turning the weapon on himself told police about his medical conditions when he first applied for a shotgun licence, a court has heard.On day three of the inquest into the Keyham mass shooting in August 2021, jurors were told Jake Davison filled in an application for a shotgun in 2017.He "self declared" that he had autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Chief Inspector Adrian Davis of Warwickshire Police, who is co-ordinator for firearms licensing on the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), told the court a decision to grant or refuse a licence is taken by local police force teams.
"Ultimately the police have to be reassured that we believe that person to be fit to hold a shotgun and they won’t cause a danger to public safety or the peace," Chief Insp Davis said."There are high-risk decisions. If a person has been previously refused a licence, or had one previously revoked, the decision to then issue that licence is potentially high-risk.
"Someone who has been involved in violence, domestic violence or other behaviour could be high-risk. Or someone who has had guns taken off them and a decision is made to return those guns."
The court was told that high-risk licence decisions "should be approved at an appropriate level of seniority".
Asked whether medical conditions could affect whether or not a licence is granted, Chief Insp Davis said: "Yes. Any condition which might affect your suitability to hold a licence.
"If someone physically couldn’t hold a gun, or any other mental health condition that is relevant, that ought to be disclosed."On an application form, if someone has self-disclosed, that’s a start to be able to go into more detail around that. You could ask for a medical report, the GP may have been contacted, and the GP was contacted in this case to offer an opinion."Bridget Dolan KC, counsel to the inquest, asked Chief Insp Davis what would happen if the GP were unable to provide information.
"That would raise curiosity,' he said. 'If the applicant has disclosed a condition you could ask the applicant to provide a medical report based on what has been disclosed.
"If there was a medical concern and the GP wasn’t going to answer it, you would have to seek elsewhere, such as asking the applicant to provide their own medical report from another doctor. You can’t truly assess suitability without the full facts."
2015 report warned 'more lives will be lost'
A report into gun licensing in police forces across England and Wales, published six years before the Plymouth mass shooting, warned that lives would be lost in 'another tragedy' unless changes were made.
In 2015 HM Inspectorate of Constabulary conducted a detailed review of the effectiveness of firearms licensing.
The report found that under Home Office guidance at the time, GPs were not obliged to respond to any police request for information about a potential licence holder.
Nor was there any obligation on the GP to note the fact that his or her patient was a licence holder, or notify the police of any medical condition that subsequently arose.
The HMIC report said these arrangements were "unsatisfactory" and left 'fundamental gaps in the establishment of a safe and effective firearms licensing system."
The report's author wrote: "At the very least the system should not allow licensing to take place without a current medical report from the applicant's GP, supported by a process whereby GPs are required, during the currency of a certificate, to notify the police of any changes to the medical circumstances (including mental health) of the certificate holder.
"We cannot make our position any clearer: it is now for others to accept the need for change. If they do, perhaps the life of the next victim of firearms misuse might be saved. What is highly likely is that, if change is not effected, there will be another tragedy."
'Not enough people' to handle firearms applications
A senior Devon and Cornwall Police officer told the families of those who died that he hopes the incident will lead to changes in firearms licensing.Giving evidence at the inquest into the shootings, Chief Superintendent Roy Linden expressed his sympathy to the families who were present in the court.
"Nothing I say can ever reduce the impact, but the evidence I provide will be candid," he said.
"It is our intention that this tragic incident will drive improvements in firearms licensing in Devon and Cornwall and across the country."
Chief Supt Linden went on to tell the court that Devon and Cornwall has the largest number of shotgun certificate holders in the UK.
In 2017, when Jake Davison first applied for a shotgun licence, there were more than 30,000 active shotgun certificates in the region.
There were 301 new shotgun applications during that year.
Asked whether the firearms department was equipped to handle so many applications, Chief Supt Linden said there are "backlogs" in the system and a "shortage of staff".
The inquest continues.