An investigation into the decision to return a gun to the Plymouth gunman, weeks before he shot and killed five innocent people, has found his firearmn was initially seized after he assaulted two teenagers in a park.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which is carrying out the probe, said Devon and Cornwall Police took away Jake Davison’s weapon and its license in December 2020, before returning it to him seven months later in July 2021.
Having applied for a shotgun certificate in July 2017, Davison was officially issued the licence in January 2018 – he then went on to legally purchase a gun two months later, the police watchdog said.
However, in September 2020, an allegation of assault on two young people was made to officers and Davison was later identified as the suspect. When interviewed, the Plymouth shooter admitted his involvement, leading to officers seizing his gun and its certificate on 7 December.
Following Davison’s completion of the police “Pathfinder” scheme – a deferred caution and charge programme designed to deal with offenders outside of the criminal justice process – in March 2021, though, the shotgun and certificate were returned to him after “a review by Devon and Cornwall’s Firearms Licensing Department”.
Announcing the update, IOPC’s regional director David Ford said he appreciated the “significant public concern that has arisen [from the case], and the need for answers to a range of questions for the safety of the public [as well as] to understand what happened leading up to the tragedy”.
“I can assure people our investigation will be thorough and any lessons arising will be shared as quickly as possible with Devon and Cornwall Police and wider bodies as necessary,” he added.
The watchdog’s investigation is focusing on what police actions were taken and when, the rationale behind police decision-making, and whether relevant law, policy and procedures were followed concerning Davison’s possession of a shotgun.
“We are also examining any sharing of information between the part of the force aware Davison had been identified as a suspect for assault and the relevant department responsible for firearms licensing,” the statement, issued on Friday, said.
The probe will consider what background and suitability checks were made by the police, including from open source material, and whether the force had any information, from Davison’s GP and any other medical or mental health services he may have engaged with, concerning his state of mind.
Mr Ford stressed that Devon and Cornwall officers force had “co-operated fully with our enquiries”, noting the force provided “relevant documentation” and the necessary information to assist with the ongoing investigation.
The news comes after it emerged on Wednesday that Davison, 22, received mental health support before he killed his own mother, four other victims and himself in one of the UK’s deadliest mass shootings.
Davison, whose social media usage suggests he was obsessed with the misogynistic “incel” movement, had been in contact with a telephone helpline in Plymouth run by the independent Livewell Southwest organisation during the past eighteen months, the group said.
That the gunman accessed this service during lockdown raises further questions around why he was ever granted a shotgun certificate.
Campaigners and politicians, as well as the friends of families of Davison’s victims, have called for answers as to why he was given the licence in 2018 and why he was not subjected to a full mental health assessment – either then or when the weapon was seized two years later.
While the IOPC continues with its investigation, the government has requested that all English and Welsh forces review their firearm application processes.