The issue of crossbows has once again reared its head following the recent BBC programme Sherwood which aired in June this year. Although it was predominately a work of fiction, it was loosely based on the murder of Keith Frogson who was attacked with a crossbow in 2004. The question of whether crossbows should have stronger restrictions is once more up for discussion.
The Story of Shane Gilmer
In January 2018 Shane Gilmer was killed when their next-door neighbour broke into his home which he shared with his partner Laura Sugden. Their neighbour Anthony Lawrence (Tony) used a crossbow to inflict a fatal wound to Shane, also wounding Laura who at the time was pregnant with their first child together.
In April 2021 Gemma Vine at Ison Harrison and Counsel Eleanor Fry, New Park Court, Leeds represented Laura at the Inquest into Shane’s death which took place before a Jury and the Senior Coroner Professor Marks at Kingston upon Hull Coroner’s Court. At the inquest, a jury heard how the crossbow bolt that was fired at Shane caused devastating injuries to his torso resulting in the bolt being embedded into his spine. Although he survived the initial wounding he died some hours later after arriving at the Emergency Department in Hull.
Other evidence heard at the inquest included the timings of the emergency service attendance at the incident. Although the timings were not criticised by the jury it was clear that there was a delay in the attendance of the emergency services but this was due to the type of weapon that had been used and the fact no one knew whether Tony was still at the scene. There were particular concerns about the fact that crossbows are quiet, their range and accuracy if used correctly.
Evidence was also heard that crossbows, although restricted in some small way by having an age limit of 18 to sell, purchase or own this weapon through the Crossbow Act 1987 can be easily purchased online, on market stalls and bric-a-brac stalls throughout the UK.
Laura’s own traumatic experience and the loss of her partner Shane led her to launch a campaign on the last day of the inquest to restrict the sale of these weapons even further, in line with the UK’s gun controls. The campaign was called ‘UK Campaign to Change the Law Governing Crossbows’.
Following the launch of the campaign and a parliamentary petition which obtained 42,082 signatures the Home Office at first responded by stating that offences using a crossbow are in fact rare and they had no intention at that time in reviewing the current laws around the sale of crossbows.
However, following an incident on 25 December 2021 when a young man was arrested having tried to break into Windsor Castle with a crossbow, the Home Office launched a review to consider strengthening controls around the sale of crossbows.
Behind the scenes and before the incident of 25 December 2021 Laura, Gemma and the team at Ison Harrison had started the process of sending out a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act to all 43 police forces within the UK to ascertain how many offences over the four years prior to May 2021 involved the use of a crossbow. Some forces including the Metropolitan Police, GMP and Merseyside did not provide any data, however, from those that did it was evident that the incidents involving crossbows were not rare, but even more concerning was that we could not get a complete picture due to the fact that many forces did not properly record crossbow incidents and we were reliant on the recording officer inputting into the freetext when recording an offence, the fact that a crossbow had been used.
In February this year, we wrote once more to the Home Office presenting our data which had been gathered from those forces who responded and our concerns about the lack of proper recording, and despite this issue, even the data that had been recorded demonstrated that offences using crossbows was not that rare. Read our open letter to the Home Secretary regarding a change to crossbow laws.
Following this letter, Laura and Gemma were invited to meet with the head of Firearms Policy at the Home Office on 13 May 2022 to hand over their evidence and discuss the concerns around these lethal weapons falling into the wrong hands. The team at the home office will now continue with their evidence gathering ready to then make their recommendations to the Home Secretary about future possible changes to the law.
Despite her terrible ordeal, Laura has never said she wants crossbows banned and accepts that some people will use crossbows for sport. However, she is keen to make it as difficult as possible for people like Tony to ever be able to get a hold of a weapon which causes such devastating and fatal injuries again.