Keyham inquest: Devon and Cornwall Police firearms licensing a 'dangerous shambles'

  • Watch Sam Blackledge's report

Devon and Cornwall Police's approach to firearms licensing was a 'dangerous shambles' which 'failed to protect the public', a court has heard.

A police official who classed Plymouth shooter Jake Davison as 'low risk' and recommended he be given a gun licence has admitted the decision was 'fundamentally incorrect' and 'indefensible'.

Davison killed five people on the streets of Plymouth in 2021 with a legally-owned pump action shotgun.

David Rees, a former firearms enquiry officer, reviewed Davison's first licence application in 2017, but failed to properly investigate a number of 'red flags' including a history of violence, anger management problems, an obsession with guns and possible mental health issues.

On day ten of the inquest into the Keyham tragedy, Dominic Adamson KC, representing the families of the victims, asked Mr Rees why he did not consider 'alarming characteristics' which should have led Davison to be classed as 'high risk'.

"Do you accept that having regard to the number of red flags in this case, and what you could have found out, that the decision to issue this licence in the first place was wrong? That your recommendation that this was a low risk case was fundamentally incorrect?"

Mr Rees replied: "Yes, I accept that."

The jury was shown CCTV footage of Davison attacking two teenagers, a 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, in a skate park in Plymouth, after which his shotgun was confiscated and later returned.

Mr Adamson said: "We see a sustained attack with multiple heavy blows against somebody who is on the ground.

"A swing at a second person, and then he hits the female. The principle attack was brutal, was it not? And it all flowed from a situation where he is walking down a path and reacts explosively to whatever happened.

"It is clear evidence, isn’t it, of intemperate behaviour."

Jake Davison was twice classed as 'low risk' by Devon and Cornwall firearms officials

Mr Adamson asked Mr Rees: "You would agree with me, surely, that any decision to place a weapon in the hands of that man in light of that evidence would be indefensible? Do you agree?"

Mr Rees said: "Yes I agree, yes."

Mr Rees said he did not view the CCTV footage before once again classing Davison as 'low risk' and recommending his gun and licence be returned to him in July 2021.

Mr Rees accepted that the gun should never have been returned.

Four weeks later he carried out the shootings in Keyham.

The weapon was confiscated in September 2020 after he violently attacked two teenagers in a skate park, knocking a 16-year-old boy unconscious, but returned to him the following summer.

Barrister Nicholas Stanage, representing Davison's siblings, said the firearms licensing unit's approach was 'not a safe system'.

"It was a dangerous shambles," he said. "The only thing that was systematic was the failure properly to assess risk.

"In granting and renewing Jake Davison's shotgun certificate, Devon and Cornwall Police's firearms licensing staff and management failed to protect the public.

"Their actions and omissions instead posed a danger to the public."

Mr Rees agreed, saying: 'Yes'.

The inquest continues.