A man who shot and killed his partner and children was granted a shotgun licence despite being caught lying on his application form, an inquest has been told.
Robert Needham, 42, shot and killed his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and daughters Ava and Lexi Needham, four and two, at their home in Woodmancote, West Sussex, in March 2020.
Needham bought the gun used in the shootings from a registered dealer nine days before.
He was first granted a shotgun licence in 2016.
He initially applied to Hampshire Police’s firearms department as that was where he lived at the time, however the application was granted by Sussex Police as he moved to Sussex before the process completed.
Evidence at the inquest in Horsham given by Chief Superintendent Nigel Lecointe, of Hampshire Police, said Needham did not declare any police cautions or convictions, or any relevant medical conditions including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, in his application form.
During the application process, a firearms enquiry officer (FEO) visited Needham to complete a face-to-face interview at his home and said police would check its database and speak to Needham’s GP to assess his suitability to own a firearm.
At that point, Needham admitted he had not disclosed a police caution he received aged 25 due to his involvement in a bicycle theft.
When asked why he did not disclose it on the form, he said he did not think it was relevant.
Needham also said it was his partner Ms Fitzgibbons who filled out the form because “he didn’t write well” and she did not know about the caution so could not include it.
The decision whether or not to grant a firearms licence is subjective, based on all the information in our possession at the time
Chief Inspector Lecointe
During the inquest, Ms Fitzgibbons’ sister Emma Ambler said she had seen the form and is certain it was written in Needham’s handwriting.
He also admitted he had been treated for depression as a teenager in the 1990s, and visited his GP in 2013 due to workplace stress.
When asked why he did not disclose this on the form, Needham said the treatment was a long time ago and therefore did not think it was relevant.
A letter from Needham’s GP sent to Hampshire Police as part of their inquiry revealed Needham had in fact been treated for depression twice – once as a teenager and once in 2003 – and spoke to his GP in 2013 as a result of workplace stress.
Despite this, Needham was still granted a shotgun certificate in 2016 by Sussex Police, having received details of the investigation from Hampshire Police.
The FEO who interviewed Needham recommended he was sent a disclosure warning letter, warning him against failing to disclose relevant medical and police information during future applications, but this was not sent due to the case being passed to Sussex Police.
When asked how common it is for people to be dishonest on the application form, Chief Inspector Lecointe explained: “It’s not very common but it does happen. The assessment then happens into whether the applicant deliberately intended to deceive, or (had) a feeling that the information is not relevant so they didn’t need to tell us.
“The decision whether or not to grant a firearms licence is subjective, based on all the information in our possession at the time.
“If it’s less certain, we’ll look at whether the deception was deliberate and may give the benefit of the doubt.”
Chief Inspector Simon Starns of Sussex and Surrey Police, who has headed the firearms department since 2019, told the inquest Needham’s application in 2016 and his subsequent renewal of the shotgun licence and application for a firearm licence in 2017 “would not have been approved today”.
This is because since 2020 Sussex Police require a GP certificate of suitability before deciding an application, and in 2017 Needham’s GP surgery was unable to comment on his suitability as it did not have the capacity.
The inquest continues on Friday.