Firearms licence officer who recommended Plymouth shooter be given a gun had no training, inquest hears

Court sketch of David Rees - Elizabeth Cook/PA
Court sketch of David Rees - Elizabeth Cook/PA

A firearms licence officer who recommended the Plymouth mass shooter for a shotgun certificate had not received any formal training, an inquest was told on Monday.

Jake Davison killed his mother with a legally owned firearm before shooting four others in a rampage around the Keyham area of Plymouth in Aug 2021. He shot himself before police arrived.

The 22-year-old had first been granted a shotgun certificate in Jan 2018 but it was seized, along with his weapon, in Dec 2020 after he assaulted two teenagers.

Just weeks before the massacre, the licence and shotgun had been returned to Davison by the police, a decision which has been the focus of an investigation by the police watchdog.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said in 2022 that a separate, criminal investigation would examine potential health and safety breaches in Devon and Cornwall Police’s firearms licensing unit.

‘No specific training’

At the inquest into the deaths of the victims – Maxine Davison, 51, Lee Martyn, 43, his three-year-old daughter Sophie, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66 – the firearms licence officer who processed Davison’s original application admitted he had “no specific training” to perform his duties.

Parts of shotgun carriage - Plymouth HM Coroner/PA
Parts of shotgun carriage - Plymouth HM Coroner/PA

David Rees reviewed the apprentice crane operator’s application in July 2017 and made a formal recommendation accompanied by a report that he sent to a supervisor for approval.

The former armed police officer and Royal Marine sought information from Davison’s GP and spoke to a former teacher who was his referee as part of the assessment process, Plymouth Coroner’s Court was told.

He also interviewed both Davison, his mother, and his uncle, who was himself a licensed shotgun holder.

Mr Rees took on the role within the force’s firearms licensing unit in May 2016 and worked there until Nov 2021.

Giving evidence, he told the jury that after starting in the role he did not receive any formal training in understanding the Home Office guidance on issuing firearms certificates, or in domestic violence or mental health.

“Nothing I would describe as training. The training was done in a mentoring/buddy system – learning on the job,” he said.

“No specific training, none at all.”

Mr Rees said he had no prior knowledge of autism and Asperger’s syndrome but did his own research after Davison had declared the conditions on his application.

‘Never told decision was mine’

After considering all the information he had about the application he wrote a report and sent it to his supervisor for review and approval, he said.

“I always thought it would be a recommendation,” Mr Rees said.

“I was never told the decision was mine and I assumed someone would read it. We have to write a report.

“To my mind what’s the point in writing a report if no one was going to read it?”

He said that he was unaware any of his cases had been “dip sampled” for review by his line managers.

“I do not recall any concerns that were raised by the supervisor or manager regarding any of the work I did,” he said.

Jake Davison - Jake Davison
Jake Davison - Jake Davison

Mr Rees said he was unaware of meetings between the Home Office and the British Medical Association where GPs had expressed concerns they were being asked to provide a medical opinion outside of their expertise on an applicant’s suitability for a firearms licence.

He said it was “fairly common” for GPs to decline the request to supply medical information about an applicant.

The inquest heard Mr Rees had checked police records as part of his assessment and knew about two assaults Davison had committed while a student at Mount Tamar School.

In Oct 2020, aged 12, Davison assaulted two teachers. A report said it was “due to ongoing possible mental health issues which mother is referring to GP and possible bullying at school. Has assaulted two teachers at school. After the incident died down he stated he ‘blew his top’ and had been bullied at school and has taken his anger out on the wrong people. Will be dealt with by restorative justice.”

The report noted he “put teacher in headlock twice” and was taken to an office where he “struggled, spat on both teachers and head-butted one of the teachers”.

In a second incident, aged 13, he assaulted another student “punching him once to the face, visible injury caused”.

Another police report from 2015 recorded there had been a “verbal argument” between Davison and his father, Mark, at his home in which his father  was “ejected from the property by son”.

The log noted no offences had been committed.

Mr Rees was asked about how the school incidents formed part of his decision-making process, he replied: “I wasn’t concerned because it was committed in school and dealt with internally by means of an apology.”

The inquest continues.