Ministers reject calls for new gun laws following Horden tragedy

Easington MP Grahame Morris yesterday had his calls for new gun laws rejected as he spoke in the House of Commons

Forensic police officers at the scene in Horden, Peterlee
Forensic police officers at the scene in Horden, Peterlee

Ministers have rejected calls for new gun laws to prevent further tragedies following the shotgun murder of three women in the North East.

Easington MP Grahame Morris called for legislation as he led a Commons debate following the murders of Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and Ms Turnbull’s daughter Tanya, in Horden, near Peterlee, on New Year’s Day, 2012.

The killer was Ms McGoldrick’s partner, 42-year-old taxi driver Michael Atherton, who was armed with a shotgun and went on to kill himself.

It emerged that Durham Police had taken Mr Atherton’s weapons away in 2008 after he threatened to harm himself, but they were then returned. He was also known to have a history of domestic violence.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Morris called for new laws ensuring that background checks were carried out on any application for a firearms licence, to include consulting GPs.

He said there should be a presumption that a licence would be refused when the checks uncovered substantiated evidence of violent conduct, including domestic violence.

Easington MP Grahame Morris
Easington MP Grahame Morris
 

The measures are backed by the Labour front bench, and Shadow Ministers are attempting to introduce them into law as amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently passing through the Commons.

But Damian Green, Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice, indicated those attempts were likely to fail as he told the Commons that the Government saw no need for new laws.

Conservative backbenchers who spoke in the debate said that Atherton’s case was a result of failures on the part of Durham Police and did not illustrate the need for new laws.

Mr Morris told MPs: “I certainly believe that the only way to safeguard the public will be through legislation. It would mandate chief police officers to conduct a full review of background checks on applicants, and those checks would involve GPS, the police, and equally importantly, previous and current domestic partners.

“And there should be a presumption by the police to refuse an application where there is a pattern of evidence of behaviour indicating violent conduct.”

He said there were “multiple failures” by the authorities which led to the deaths in 2012.

Mr Morris added: “I would like to be standing here saying it couldn’t happen again – that we have learnt lessons, the Ministers have tightened up the guidance and everything is in place to prevent a similar tragedy. But I don’t believe that to be the case.”

He was backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said police should also reconsider firearms licences which have already been issued if the owner was found guilty of domestic violence. But Conservatives including Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) spoke out against proposals for new laws, arguing they would not prevent police making mistakes.

Mr Green told the Commons that existing regulations governing firearms licences dealt with the issues raised by Mr Morris. He said: “The police can already take these factors in to consideration when they consider a firearms application. I believe the law is sound in this respect and there is no need to change it.”

He promised that training for police officers issuing firearms licences would be improved, and said the College of Policing was issuing a new code of conduct.

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