A police force that took the “high risk” decision to return a shotgun licence to a man who went on to kill five people in Plymouth has admitted it did not have enough staff to deal with the number of licensing applications it was receiving.
Devon and Cornwall police also told an inquest on Jake Davison’s victims that there were no records of audits being undertaken to check decision-making in the firearms licensing department at the time.
Davison, 22, killed his mother, Maxine, 51, after a row at their home in August 2021 before going out and shooting dead Sophie Martyn, three, her father, Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66, in the Keyham area of Plymouth.
Davison, an apprentice crane operator, then turned the Weatherby pump-action shotgun on himself before armed police officers reached him.
An inquest in Exeter has heard Davison applied for a shotgun certificate in July 2017 and Devon and Cornwall police issued him one in January 2018 valid for five years. The force revoked Davison’s licence and seized his shotgun in 2020 after he assaulted two teenagers in a park, but returned them in 2021 – weeks before the killings.
On Thursday, jurors were told that returning a licence after it has been revoked is classed as a “high risk decision” in guidance issued to police in 2016.
Supt Adrian Davis, a firearms licensing manager at Warwickshire police, said decisions could be classed as high risk if a person had been previously refused a licence or had one revoked.
When asked about the Weatherby pump-action shotgun held by Davison, the superintendent said he had 36 years experience in clay pigeon shooting and had only seen that type of shotgun used on one occasion.
Ch Supt Roy Linden, of Devon and Cornwall police, told the inquest the victims had “needlessly lost their lives” and said the force recognised the trauma suffered by their families. “It is our intention that this tragic incident will serve to drive improvements in firearms licensing both in Devon and Cornwall and nationally,” Linden said.
Linden described Devon and Cornwall police as a “large rural force” and said it had the largest number of certificate holders in the UK. In 2017, there were 30,588 holders of shotgun certificates and 11,132 firearms certificates held.
He said there were about 3,000 new applications and renewals each year with a backlog at the force at the time which has “probably increased now”. Asked if the force had sufficient staff to deal with that number, Linden replied: “The simple answer is no.”
He also told the inquest there were no records of dip sampling – audits used to check decision-making – in the firearms licensing department at the force at the time.
The inquest continues.