'It's NOT a fishing expedition', say police over random spot checks on gun owners

Plus: More Op Solitaire material comes out

Downrange As opposition to the Association of Chief Police Officers' campaign to impose random spot checks on lawful gun owners' security arrangements grows, El Reg managed to get some responses out of the police chiefs' trade union.

“We have not encouraged forces to use any powers of entry at all, however should the need arise depending on the circumstance, the powers remain unchanged,” said an ACPO spokesman in an uncharacteristically detailed statement given to us earlier this week.

“I would, however, echo the advice from the shooting organisations,” continued the spokesman, “that certificate holders are encouraged to comply and engage. This is about raising security awareness and engagement, and not about catching people out. The visits are unannounced to test the security measures in place and help raise awareness, but also to ensure everyone is thinking about security. We are there to advise and support certificate holders.”

The spokesman assured us that police employees carrying out random spot checks would not routinely apply for a court warrant to gain entry if refused – though he refused to elaborate on whether refusing entry to an unannounced spot check would place a homeowner at risk of arrest.

We also asked ACPO about the impact of the random spot check policy on the elderly and vulnerable. For better or for worse, there are a large number of target shooters who are in their dotage. What if someone appeared on their doorstep, said they were from the police and wanted to inspect the homeowner's firearms, in an attempt at a distraction burglary of the type beloved of low-lives who target the vulnerable?

“The person should ask to see their warrant card,” said ACPO's man. “This is easily verifiable by calling the local force number and checking their details.”

“This is all about engagement,” he continued. “If someone is vulnerable by any means, then we would want to be there to help and assist them. If anyone would like a visit to discuss their security, or perhaps obtain advice about crime prevention, then please call your local force and arrange this. We would actively encourage certificate holders who are unsure about security to engage and get advice and support.”

Fair enough. But, we asked, isn't this whole policy effectively a move to introduce fishing expeditions in the home against the licensed firearms community, thereby having a negative effect on public confidence in the police?

“This is not a fishing expedition,” said the evidently exasperated spokesman. “It is purely about engagement and raising the security profile and testing this. Where there is advice needed it will be provided.”

He continued: “We must rely on the shooting community to help improve security and prevent firearms ending up in the hands of criminals or terrorists.”

Is there a terrorist plot afoot here?

This sheds a bit more light on the possible motivation behind this unannounced spot-check policy. London-based readers will recall the recent arrests and charging of a number of people suspected of planning a terrorist atrocity. Immediately after those arrests, a public warning went out to all police constables in the UK to “remain vigilant”. The Metropolitan Police's Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, ACPO's chief anti-terrorism cop, told the BBC that "measures are being put in place to increase the vigilance of officers and staff."

Perhaps – and this is purely speculation – this series of terror arrests has something to do with the policy. We will never know for sure, as the key part of the trial where evidence is presented and tested will be held in secret to prevent the public learning exactly what the security services do and how they do it. But – and again, this is groundless speculation – perhaps the spot check policy is linked to a criminal plot to steal firearms from the home of a lawful gun owner?

It would, of course, be silly to find a post hoc justification for this level of intrusion; I'll leave that to the sort of journalists who told us that this policy definitely wasn't the fault of the police and that we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. If the justification is that there is a credible and relevant threat that criminals are definitely planning to raid the home of a British gun owner and steal firearms, then the police should come out and say so to allow the licensed firearms community to take appropriate precautions.

Merely saying “we're going to start turning up unannounced on your doorstep”, having quietly slipped a form of wording authorising this into the Home Office Guidance which no reasonable person could object to, does not show an approach dedicated to working with the shooting public. They're not stupid and the vast majority of them want to help, not be treated like mushrooms.*

That "shop-a-gun-owner" Crimestoppers hotline

The most contentious part of the ACPO campaign against the licensed firearms community has been the launch of a dedicated Crimestoppers hotline targeting gun owners. ACPO's spokesman was in forthright mood when we asked why this hotline singled out law-abiding shooters for the attentions of the curtain-twitching mob:

“Incidents and intelligence go unreported every day so it is clear that some people are not confident in coming forward to the police with information. We chose to work with an independent charity Crimestoppers to run a campaign that encourages people with concerns about firearms owners to report anonymously if they feel that they can’t report their concerns directly to the police."

"This sort of campaign is not without precedent," he insisted, "and has been used in a number of other policing areas.”

We could find no reference to the new hotline on the Crimestoppers website. A spokesman from Crimestoppers was, last week, unable to tell us how many calls the number had received. Again, all this points towards it being rushed into use – as did the embarrassing snafu when the number wasn't even connected on its launch day – to prevent anyone from being able to raise objections to it.

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