Crossbows: What are the UK's laws on weapons after man shot in London?

The murder of a pregnant woman in 2018 sparked calls for change but tighter restrictions were not imposed

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 15 September 2020 16:25 BST
One of the crossbows used by Ramanodge Unmathallegadoo
One of the crossbows used by Ramanodge Unmathallegadoo

The shooting of a man with a crossbow in London has sparked fresh questions over the lack of restrictions on such weapons in the UK.

The victim was shot in the abdomen on Monday evening in Uxbridge and was initially in a life-threatening condition.

The Metropolitan Police said the 33-year-old man’s injuries were caused by a crossbow arrow.

It was the latest in a series of attacks using crossbows in the UK, including several murders.

Why are crossbows legal in the UK?

Crossbows are legal in the UK and no licence or registration is required to own them, because they are not legally classed as firearms.

People can be prosecuted for using crossbows for illegal hunting, or for attacking people, under separate laws.

A crossbow - like knives and bats - can also be classed as an “offensive weapon” if carried in public and spark a prosecution.

For the purposes of UK law, crossbows are defined as a form of bow in which the bow-stave (prod) is fixed crosswise to a stock and can be drawn by hand or lever, before being released by a trigger.

Crossbow killer who murdered pregnant ex-wife to die in jail

What restrictions are there?

The Crossbows Act 1987 states that they cannot be bought or sold in England, Wales or Scotland by or to those under 18, while a separate law makes the same provision in Northern Ireland.

Possession is also prohibited by those under 18 years old except under adult supervision, and violating the law is a criminal offence.

Anyone who sells a crossbow in violation of the law can be fined or jailed for up to six months.

But the Crossbows Act does not apply to crossbows with a draw weight of less than 1.4kg.

The weapons were used for hunting and warfare in medieval times, and were traditionally popular in continental Europe, but fell into disuse with the development of firearms.

What are crossbows used for?

In the late 20th century, crossbows saw a resurgence in popularity for recreational target shooting.

Hunting animals with any sort of bow in the UK is unlawful.

Have there been other attacks on people using crossbows in the UK?

The UK has seen several murders and attempted killings involving crossbows in recent years, as well as illegal poaching and cruelty against birds and animals involving the weapons.

In February, a sports therapist was jailed for life after shooting a pensioner dead as he adjusted his satellite dish.

Terrence Whall interfered with the dish at 74-year-old Gerald Corrigan’s home on the Welsh island of Anglesey to draw him out.

Mr Corrigan, a retired lecturer, died from his injuries in hospital on 11 May 2019, almost a month after being shot.

Following Whall’s conviction, Karen Dixon of the Crown Prosecution Service called crossbows “deadly, silent weapons that can cause horrific injuries”.

In November 2018, a heavily pregnant woman was shot dead with a crossbow by her ex-husband.

Ramanodge Unmathallegadoo was jailed for life for the murder of Sana Muhammad, whose baby was delivered by medics after the attack and survived.

Unmathallegadoo armed himself with two crossbows for the attack at the home where she lived with her second husband and five children in Ilford.

Ms Muhammad died of a heart attack after suffering injuries to her internal organs.

In February 2019, a man who tried to murder his GP with a crossbow was jailed for 20 years.

Mark Waterfall shot his victim at a surgery in Watford but did not cause a fatal injury.

Crossbows have also been found in the possession of criminal gangs, “county lines” drug dealers and terror offenders in recent years.

Sana Muhammad was murdered with a crossbow by her ex-husband in 2018

Are there calls for change?

Several MPs called for tighter restrictions on crossbows following the murder of Ms Muhammad in 2018.

Some suggested changes could be made to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which was being considered at the time, but none were passed into law.

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