To the Home Secretary,
This is an open letter on behalf of Laura Sugden and Ison Harrison solicitors in reply to the Government’s response dated 20 May 2021 to our petition to put in place stricter laws governing the purchase/acquisition/possession of crossbows.
We are disappointed with the Government’s response last week to our crossbow petition. It isn’t clear from this response whether anybody has actually taken the time to properly research and consider what we believe to be an increasing rise in the use of crossbows in assaults, robberies, and as a means to carry out threats on members of the public.
Only two weeks ago an incident occurred in Barnsley where a young man was wielding a crossbow in public which lead to an armed response from South Yorkshire Police, thankfully no one was hurt in this incident. The video of the incident, filmed and posted by a member of the public is, to be blunt, terrifying. It clearly shows the two police officers who were immediately at the scene turn and run to take cover, clearly in fear for their lives and appreciating that the skill of armed officers was required to bring situation under control.
Evidence that crossbows are a growing problem
We have undertaken our own online research into the use of crossbows in incidents and we are shocked to learn of the significant number of incidents reported in the media over the past 5 years alone.
By carrying out this relatively crude internet research in terms of methodology, we have discovered that over the past 10 years there have been 63 incidents reported in the press (that we have been able to uncover) where the police have been summoned because of the use of a crossbow. Half of these incidents involved someone being seriously injured or dying as a result of the injuries inflicted; a large number involve crossbows being used to kill or inflict injuries on animals.
Out of the 63 incidents we found reported online, 40 of them have occurred during the past 5 years, which strongly suggests that the use of crossbows for illegitimate means is on the increase. This data certainly does not suggest, as you state within your response, that these “incidents are fortunately very rare”. If the Government maintains that, despite this data, incidents involving crossbows are still “very rare”, we would like to know exactly how many people and animals must be threatened, injured or killed before you feel that it is an appropriate point to change the law.
We would also be interested to know how the Government can be sure that “The vast majority of those using crossbows do so safely and responsibly” when they are not regulated or monitored by the police, and when you have no systems in place to monitor how many crossbows are even being sold in the UK each day.
The evidence of professionals given at the Inquest into Shane’s death
We represented Shane’s family at the Inquest into his death. You will be no doubt aware that the fact that crossbows not being subject to strict controls is also of grave concern to the Senior Coroner who heard Shane’s Inquest, Professor Paul Marks, who made a Regulation 28, Prevention of Future Deaths Report at the conclusion of the inquest.
As part of our continuing exchange with you on the dangers of crossbows, we would like to draw your attention to the following points that were made in evidence at the inquest:
- During the Inquest into Shane’s death the armed response officer in response to the Coroner’s questions stated the following:
- a) Crossbows can include a wide variety of weapons in terms of capability the power and the heads used can greatly affect penetration therefore we are concerned about what the unknown factor is and what personal protection equipment we need, like body armour, headgear etc
- b) When asked if he was concerned that anyone over the age of 18 can buy these he said – yes that is a great concern
- The Home Office pathologist in answer to the Coroner’s questions stated the following:
- a) When asked if a crossbow is a deadly and vicious weapon he said – yes and very powerful, it travelled through a limb, fracturing a bone, into the body, fractured a rib and embedded into the spine. It proved difficult to remove from the spine.
- b) He went on to say that he had discussed with colleagues about the lethality of the crossbow and that it is happening more around the country.
As you can see this is not just of concern to Shane’s family but to the professionals who were involved in the response to this vicious attack.
Current laws governing crossbows are inadequate
The law as it stands is not proactive enough and it will not prevent future deaths from occurring. The laws relating to crossbows being classed as an offensive weapon only kicks in once the person is carrying a crossbow in public, putting the public and the police who must respond at risk of serious injury.
The laws relating to prosecution of individuals who harm a person or commit murder is also not preventative. It does not help a family like Shane’s who have lost a partner, a dad, a son and a brother. It is to be frank too little, too late.
Finally, it was of surprise to see your concluding statement about “the laws striking a balance between protecting the public and allowing people to own and use crossbows for legitimate activities”. A crossbow is a lethal and dangerous weapon. It has a similar effective range to a shotgun but offers the accuracy of a rifle. It is also unlawful to hunt with one in the UK. From what we can see, they do not appear to be used in many sports competitions. We can see no legitimate reason as to why someone needs to own a crossbow and even if they do, there should be no reason why they cannot be properly regulated in line with firearms.
We implore you to not brush this to one side and instead review the information we have provided in this letter and in addition, speak to the police forces who respond to these incidents to understand if the concerns expressed by the armed police officer who attended Shane’s inquest are widely shared, so that other families do not lose loved ones in the same violent and painful way.
Laura Sugden & Ison Harrison Solicitors