Surrey police firearms licencing officer sacked for failings in case concerning shooting of Christine and Lucy Lee

26 April 2017

An IPCC report published today confirms that a Surrey police firearms licencing officer has been sacked for failings in relation to the return of shotguns to John Lowe, one of which was subsequently used to kill Christine and Lucy Lee in February 2014. A firearms licencing supervisor retired before he could face a disciplinary hearing.

The IPCC report details a litany of failings leading to the return of the shotguns, which the police had removed after receiving a report that John Lowe had threatened to shoot the daughter and sister of Christine and Lucy, Stacy Banner. The report makes recommendations to improve firearms licencing locally and nationally.

The IPCC has also published a second report concerning the arrest and detention of Stacy Banner a few weeks after the killing of her mother and sister. The IPCC has concluded that an inspector has a case to answer in disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct. Stacy was arrested at her home, with her children upstairs in bed, and was held in police custody overnight, despite her obvious distress and extreme vulnerability. No further action was taken in relation to any criminal charges.

According to the report into the shootings, the police held the following information indicating John Lowe was not suitable to retain a firearms licence, in addition to the allegation of the threat to shoot Stacy Banner:

  • Reports of domestic abuse, including previous threats to kill;
  • Evidence of association with criminals;
  • Report of involvement in a burglary;
  • Evidence of alcohol abuse;
  • Evidence of impaired mental functioning and/or other medical conditions relevant to the suitability to hold firearms;
  • Evidence of dishonesty in his previous application for a firearms licence (failure to disclose a criminal offence; failure to disclose relevant medical history).

The report also discloses wholesale failings on the part of Surrey police firearms licencing department in their investigation of the threat to kill Stacy Banner, including:

  • accepting the account of John Lowe in relation to the threats to kill, without apprising themselves of information obtained by the investigating officer, and without reading the witness statements of Stacy Banner or two witnesses to threats to kill;
  • applying the criminal standard of proof to the allegation of a threat to kill in deciding whether it provided sufficient grounds to justify rescinding the shotguns licence;
  • failing to review the file and other records to check what other information was known to the police about John Lowe’s suitability to hold shotguns;
  • failing to identify that John Lowe was a domestic abuser.

The report also confirms that Stacy was not told that the firearms had been returned to John Lowe. As a result she was not able to complain about this to the force or warn her mother and sister about the risk they faced.

The report also finds that at force level, there was inappropriate delegation of the Chief Constable’s licencing powers, and there was inadequate training including in relation to domestic abuse.

StacyBanner-Julian

Stacy Banner has now asked the Senior Coroner for Surrey, Richard Travers, to resume the inquest into the deaths of Christine and Lucy Lee. His decision is awaited. She also plans to bring a civil claim against the Chief Constable of Surrey police.

Stacy Banner said, “These reports show that I was right all along about my concerns about Surrey police’s failings. It is devastating to see your worst fears confirmed in black and white about how those entrusted with the public safety can abuse and neglect their powers. But for the police’s failings, my mum and sister would be here today. To then find myself detained overnight contrary to the law, as the report confirms, in the same police station – possibly the same cell – where my mum and sister’s killer had been held, beggars belief. Now I want to see change nationally on how the police deal with firearms licencing. Changes were promised after the Michael Atherton case – but still my mother and sister are dead. Enough is enough.”

Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge, said, “It takes a great deal to shock me. I have been campaigning to improve the police response to domestic violence for forty years. But I am shocked that Surrey Police decided to return five shotguns to John Lowe – a dangerous, violent, man with a history of domestic violence and other crime, after he threatened to shoot his stepdaughter, Stacy Banner, dead. And that they decided they did not need to take further action to investigate Stacy’s allegation in spite of independent witness evidence. But that decision was made even more devastating when John Lowe went on to use those very same guns to kill Stacy’s sister and mother – Lucy and Christine Lee. He even said he would have killed Stacy, too, if he had had time.

“I am relieved the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has finally completed its investigation. It has taken three years – an agonising wait for Stacy and the rest of her family. It is appropriate that one of the officers responsible for that devastating decision to return the guns has been sacked. But I am sorry that another has retired before the IPCC came to its conclusion. Two women are killed every single week in England and Wales by a violent partner or former partner. There have been countless reports, investigations, homicide reviews, serious case reviews, inquests – the list goes on. And yes, there have been improvements. But Refuge supports 5,000 women and children every day. Many of them have begged the police for help. Things are not changing fast enough. Stacy repeatedly warned the police about Lowe. It is a tragedy they did not take her seriously. And Refuge supports Stacy’s call for an inquest to get answers to all the other questions the IPCC decided not to examine.”

Stacy’s solicitor, Sarah Ricca of Deighton Pierce Glynn, said, “The IPCC recommendations in this shocking case include that the licensing team should liaise with officers investigating allegations against firearms license holders. In other words, the IPCC is recommending that licensing team staff do their job. It is a vindication for Stacy Banner that staff faced dismissal proceedings and one was sacked, and that both local and national recommendations have been made. It is further vindication that the IPCC has found that officers, including a senior officer, should face disciplinary action arising from Stacy’s arrest and detention, just weeks after the killing of her mother and sister. It is a bitter reality for Stacy that if Surrey police had shown similar zeal in relation to the policing of John Lowe, her mother and sister could still be alive today.”

Contact the Refuge press office on press@refuge.org.uk or 0207 395 7731. For out of hours and weekend press enquiries, please call 07970 894240.

Image: Stacy Banner with photographs of her mother, Christine Lee, and her sister, Lucy Lee. Copyright Julian Nieman for Refuge.

Notes to editors

  • Christine and Lucy Lee were shot and killed by John Lowe at Keepers Cottage Stud farm, near Guildford, Surrey, on 23 February 2014.
  • John Lowe pleaded not guilty to murder but was convicted on 29 October 2014 and sentenced to life imprisonment on 31 October 2014 at Guildford Crown Court.
  • John Lowe had seven shotguns. These were removed from him in May 2013 after Stacy Banner reported to the police that he had threatened to kill her at gunpoint. Five of the seven guns were returned to him on 11 July 2013.
  • The IPCC report on the Michael Atherton case can be found here