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Five-week inquests concluded for Plymouth mass shooting

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) publicly announced a series of recommendations both to Devon and Cornwall Police following the conclusion of five-week inquests in February 2023 for the victims of Jake Davison, the Plymouth mass shooter.

Jake Davison, 22, had shot his mother Maxine, 51, before killing three-year-old Sophie Martyn, her father, Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66, in August 2021 in the Keyham area of Plymouth, and had turned the gun on himself after being confronted by an unarmed officer. Regarded as one of the worst mass shootings in UK history, Plymouth mass shooting pointed to the failings within Devon and Cornwall Police’s licensing unit, which handed Davison back his shotgun five weeks before the killings after it had been confiscated because he was identified as a suspect for assaults on two young people in a park in Plymouth.

IOPC Regional Director David Ford said: “It has become obvious to all in light of the atrocity that Jake Davison should never had been allowed to possess a shotgun. Evidence given at the inquests has clearly demonstrated the impact this incident has had, and continues to have, for the families, friends, and the community as a whole.

“While we found cases to answer for misconduct for two Devon and Cornwall Police employees, we determined that failings by individuals were substantially mitigated by weaknesses in force systems, processes, training, and the departmental resources and culture then in place.”

IOPC issued recommendations following the inquests

Recommendations of IOPC included that Devon and Cornwall Police should; “put in place measures to ensure they are able to monitor certificate holders so that all relevant incidents, information and intelligence are available for continuous assessment of a person’s suitability to possess firearms, in line with policy; dip samples and reviews a substantial proportion of licensing decisions made by Firearms Enquiry Officers (FEOs) prior to their individual completion of new FEO role-specific training; issue a further communication to all force Evidence Review Officers (EROs),ü to the effect that decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, giving full and appropriate consideration to all aggravating and mitigating factor; ensure that there is a clear and shared understanding of governance, structures and working practices in the Firearms and Explosives Licensing Unit (FELU).”

During the inquest hearings, a statement was released by the legal representative of families of victims that included heavy criticisms of police for allowing Jake Davison to have been issued a shotgun certificate and for handing the weapon back to him after it was seized following his brutal assault on two children at the Central Park skate park. They have accused the licensing system at the force of being “a shambles from the top to the bottom”. They also said it was “too late for an apology from Devon and Cornwall Police. The time for that has passed” adding that what they do demand is “accountability, ownership and change.”

Praises for the heroic police officer

On the other hand, PC Zachary Printer was praised both by representatives of families and Plymouth senior coroner Ian Arrow, who led the hearing, for his heroic behaviour in confronting the gunman. PC Printer had been among the first responders to the shooting, and although unarmed, had confronted the armed man without any hesitance by running towards him and shouting ‘Stand still!’ PC Printer said, “My role as a police officer is to protect the public as best I can. I had no choice. I had to confront him to protect the public, so I had become the focus of his attention and also save two firearms officers from having to shoot him.”

While PC Printer’s testimony left many in the coroner’s court in tears, including members of the jury, families of the victims as well as some of the legal representatives present, Senior coroner Ian Arrow commented on his bravery as follows: “The reasons he gave for his actions were in the finest traditions of public servants. It was his thought for others that prompted his action. He deserves a coroner’s commendation. That is the highest accolade a coroner can bestow.”

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