Keyham inquest: ‘Fundamentally flawed’ system returned shotgun to gunman

Jake Davison killed his mother and then shot dead four others in a 12-minute attack 

The decision-making system that returned a shotgun licence to Jake Davison was “fundamentally flawed” and was in place for at least five years, an inquest into the Plymouth shooting has heard.

The jury has also heard today (25 January) that a lack of resources had contributed to the issue.

The Plymouth shooting left six people dead in August 2021.

Jake Davison killed his mother Maxine after a row, then shot dead four others in a 12-minute attack before turning the gun on himself.

Three-year-old Sophie Martyn, her father, Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66, died on the evening of 12 August in the Keyham area of the city.

Speaking at the inquest, Superintendent Brent Davison, unrelated to the gunman, said he became head of Devon and Cornwall Police’s Firearms and Explosives Licensing unit two months after the shooting.

Dominic Adamson KC, representing the victims’ families, asked him: “You would want to know how it was that for five years a fundamentally flawed system had been in place?”

The Weatherby pump action shotgun used by Jake Davison to kill four people and then himself above his 12-gauge gun Credit: PA

Mr Davison replied: “Yes, they were overstretched and perhaps the system is not perfect.”

Mr Adamson said: “So you are saying that lack of resources resulted in a flawed system and that persisted for five years?”

“Yes,” Mr Davison answered.

Bridget Dolan KC, counsel to the inquest, said a review carried out by Durham Constabulary after the shooting found “serious concerns” with the decision-making process under the firearms licence unit’s previous head Michelle Moore.

Davison had his pump-action Weatherby shotgun and licence returned to him weeks before he carried out the attack in Keyham.

His licence and gun had been seized in 2020 after Davison assaulted two teenagers in a park, and Ms Moore earlier told the inquest that the decision to return them before the killing on 12 August 2021 was high-risk and should have been passed to her but was not.

Mr Davison said Ms Moore is not making as many high-risk decisions as before and he is now mostly responsible, making two to three high-risk decisions a week.

Nick Stanage, representing the gunman’s siblings, asked him: “Devon and Cornwall Police are prioritising the sensitivity of Ms Moore, and possibly other colleagues, over public safety?”

Mr Davison replied: “I think that is one perspective. There is wider context based around the conversations I have had with Ms Moore, discussing cases and her decision-making and she is part of the training.

“Until the last couple of weeks I have not had concerns about her specific decision-making and knowledge, in my experience.”

He said changes to the decision-making process after the shooting led to a backlog in assessing applications for gun licences that had lapsed as well as other applications for renewal.

He said: “Clearly such a significant event did have an impact on police service, and if you look at the backlog of grants and renewals from August and September 2021, they have started to reduce from November.”

Coroner Ian Arrow asked him: “Four thousand people have not renewed their licences. Are you able to say what happened to the guns those licence holders held?”

Police at the scene of the attacks in Keyham

Mr Davison answered: “Yes. The Home Office raised this as an issue nationally. We have done extensive work around managing that risk.

“The reality is that because such detailed work was being put into the decision-making process and getting it right, that meant there were backlogs in cases waiting for renewal, unless they needed them for business they were not a priority for us.

“Our process now is, as well as our standard correspondence going out 16 to 18 weeks before renewal, holders get a call a month before.

“We go through a triage process so if there are no immediate concerns they can have a permit. And that is followed up by dedicated officers.”

He also said there were 196 licences that had lapsed which did not have a renewal application and that officers have since got that down to 100.

The inquest continues.