Parliament: Firearms - `Discrepancy' over surrendered guns

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The Independent Online
THE HOME Office failed to make adequate checks to ensure that all the handguns outlawed after the Dunblane school massacre were handed in, according to a report published today.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee criticises the Government for failing to make police forces maintain records during the handover to show whether all legally held handguns had been surrendered.

More than 162,000 handguns and 700 tonnes of ammunition were given up between July 1997 and February 1998 in the biggest compulsory surrender of legally held firearms in Britain.

But MPs were worried by a "discrepancy" of 25,000 between the number of guns estimated by the police and the number handed over. "The public needed to be confident that all handguns had been surrendered," David Davis, Tory chairman of the all-party committee, said last night. But this was "not handled well".

His committee said there were "wide discrepancies" in many police forces between the estimates and the number surrendered. Only 16 of the 51 forces came within 10 per cent of their estimate.

The Home Office told the MPs it was confident police had accounted for all the licensed handguns held in their areas. However, only 16 of the 26 forces visited by the National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog, believed all handguns had been given up during the surrender period. One in four of the remaining cases were still unresolved by last September.

"We consider that the Home Office should have obtained a better idea of the total number of handguns due to be surrendered, and should have ensured that forces maintained records to show whether all legally held handguns had been surrendered or otherwise accounted for," says the committee.

The report also says there has been "slow progress" on including a central register of firearms on the police national computer, as promised under the law which banned handguns. "We are disappointed that work on implementing the register is not more advanced," say the MPs.