Gun owners still wait for compensation

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LORD TEBBIT accused the Government yesterday of treating handgun owners worse than terrorists by making them wait for more than a year to be compensated for their confiscated firearms.

A year after the implementation of legislation banning hand guns, more than 21,000 gun owners are still waiting for claims worth millions of pounds to be settled. Many gun-shop owners have incurred huge debts and some have lost their homes and their businesses.

At a rally in Westminster organised by the new Firearms Industry Compensation Group (FICG), Lord Tebbit told gun owners: "You are the scapegoats for the breakdown of law and order." He compared the treatment of the gun trade with that of the IRA, which he said was feted by Downing Street though it refused to decommission its weapons.

Lord Tebbit owns a shotgun and a rifle, which he said he uses to shoot grey squirrels that damage trees at his home in Devon.

The former Tory party chairman said gun owners would have to join forces with other mistreated groups if their grievance was to arouse public sympathy.

"Don't let anyone make this a firearms issue," he said. "The issue is the confiscation of property without proper compensation."

The rally attracted barely 100 of the 44,000 compensation claimants and Roger Hale, FICG chairman, conceded: "We must send a clear message that we are not to be reckoned by the numbers here today. Most people cannot afford to come to London for an event like this."

Among those in the audience, Dave Cooper, 53, said the handgun ban had cost him his business and his home of 28 years.

Mr Cooper was a partner of D & P Guns at Edgware, north-west London, an 18-year-old business which had built up a turnover of pounds 400,000 a year but collapsed under the backlash that followed the Dunblane massacre in 1996.

Under the new law, Mr Cooper was forced to hand over hundreds of guns but is still waiting for pounds 40,000 in claimed compensation. He said if he had been paid by the Government within three months he could have diversified into selling legal sporting guns and kept his business alive.

Instead, the firm has closed and he has been forced to sell his three- bedroom house to pay his debts and bank interest charges of pounds 200 per week.

"I have been made to feel like a criminal when I have done absolutely nothing wrong," he said. "I feel angry, disillusioned and hurt."

The rally was also addressed by members of the England shooting squad that competed at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia.

One member, Carol Page, accused the BBC of bowing to prejudice against shooters by "censoring" the sport from its coverage of the Games.

"There's no way we can impress on people what our sport is all about if it's not broadcast. We have won all these medals and there was not one shooting final broadcast at all," she said.

The Home Office expects the final bill for gun compensation to come to pounds 128m, of which pounds 56m has so far been paid.

The Government blames the payment delays on the complex nature of the claims and the need to weed out fraud.