Plymouth victims’ families demand law change after claim ‘catastrophic failures’ handed gunman Jake Davison licence to kill’

Undated screengrab of Jake Davison, taken from a video posted on YouTube (Jake Davison/PA) (PA Media)
Undated screengrab of Jake Davison, taken from a video posted on YouTube (Jake Davison/PA) (PA Media)

The families of Keyham gunman Jake Davison’s victims have demanded an overhaul of the 50-year-old Firearms Act after accusing police of granting him “a licence to kill”.

They spoke out after an inquest jury found there was a “seriously unsafe culture” in Devon and Cornwall Police’s firearms licensing unit.

In just eight minutes Davison killed his mother Maxine, 51, and then shot dead three-year-old Sophie Martyn, her father Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66.

He then turned the weapon upon himself as he was confronted by an unarmed police officer on August 12 2021 in Keyham, Plymouth.

The families of Davison’s victims said his actions that day were “an act of pure evil”, which were “facilitated and enabled by a series of failings and incompetence from the people and organisations that are supposed to keep us safe”.

They said: “It is beyond us how Davison, a man with a known history of violence, mental health issues, and with no real need to own a firearm, was granted a licence to possess a gun in the first place.

“Warning signs were ignored and a licence to kill was granted.”

They are now calling for a complete overhaul in firearms licensing.

“We hope that change can come so no other family has to endure the torment of what we have been, and still are, going through,” they added.

Jurors at a long-running inquest in Exeter ruled each victim was unlawfully killed.

They were critical of the failings within the firearms licensing unit, which handed the apprentice crane operator back his shotgun five weeks before the killings.

The jury said: “There was a catastrophic failure in the management of the firearms and explosives licensing unit, with a lack of managerial supervision, inadequate and ineffective leadership.

“This was compounded by a lack of senior management and executive leadership who failed to notice or address the issues.

“There was a lack of scrutiny and professional curiosity at all levels.

“There was a seriously unsafe culture within the firearms and explosives licensing unit of defaulting to granting licences and to returning licences after review.”

Turning to national failings, the jury also found: “There was a serious failure at a national level by the Government, Home Office and National College of Policing to implement the recommendation from Lord Cullen’s Report in 1996 arising out of the fatal shootings in Dunblane.”

The inquest heard the 22-year-old legally held a shotgun certificate and weapon having been obsessed with firearms from a young age due to a trait in autism of developing a “special interest”.

He applied for a shotgun certificate in July 2017 aged 18, saying he wanted to go clay pigeon shooting with his uncle.

As part of the application process, Davison had declared his autism and Asperger’s – but when police sought relevant information from his GP, the doctor declined to provide any as it was not mandatory.

The police granted the application in January 2018 to last five years.

Later that year, he bought a black Weatherby pump-action shotgun which he kept at home in Biddick Drive.

Police were already aware Davison had a history of violence and knew that aged 12 he had assaulted two teachers and aged 13 had punched a pupil at the special school he attended.

Aged 17 he was involved in a domestic verbal argument with his father Mark and was also suspected of an assault outside a Tesco store in 2016.

In September 2020, Davison was captured on CCTV punching a 16-year-old boy up to nine times in a skate park and slapping their 15-year-old female friend after another boy called him a “fat c***”.

Detectives did not know he was a firearms holder and put him on the deferred charge Pathfinder scheme instead of prosecution.

It was only two months later a concerned Pathfinder worker alerted police and the shotgun and certificate were seized.

But just five weeks before the killings, they were handed back to Davison.

Witnesses to the shootings recalled seeing the smirking gunman on his rampage and dialled 999 after hearing gunshots.

After killing his mother, Davison went into Biddick Drive and shot Mr Martyn and his daughter, then and walked into nearby Linear Park and killed dogwalker Mr Washington.

Mrs Shepherd was fatally shot outside a hair salon on Henderson Place.

As two unarmed officers tried to save her life, Davison returned with the shotgun nestled under his chin.

Risking his own life, Pc Zach Printer rushed towards him to try to make him surrender but Davison pulled the trigger – with his death captured on the officer’s body worn camera.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) made a string of recommendations, but no-one will lose their jobs as a result.

The force said it has invested £4 million in the firearms licensing unit since the tragedy, with 100 staff handling the highest number of gun licence applications of any force in England and Wales.

While Chief Constable Will Kerr apologised for failures, he hit out at a lack of national guidance around firearms licensing.

He said: “I accept Devon and Cornwall Police has failed our communities in regard to Jake Davison, but had there been clearer national guidance, direction and specific legislation concerning firearms licensing – decision making locally may well have been very different.

“We must all take responsibility when mistakes have been made, but must also learn as police forces collectively to prevent future tragedies.”

Senior coroner Ian Arrow said he would be preparing a preventing future deaths report addressing his concerns.

A Home Office spokesman said: “This was a devastating tragedy and we thank the coroner for their investigation.

“Once received we will reflect on the coroner’s report, including any recommendations, and respond in due course.”