Shootings: Cumbria — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 12:44 pm on 3rd June 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 12:44 pm, 3rd June 2010

My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows.

"I know that the whole House will want to join me in sending my heartfelt condolences to everybody touched by yesterday's tragic events. In particular, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who were so senselessly killed and injured in the shootings.

We also send our thoughts to the honourable Member for Copeland, who is in Cumbria today. He represents communities that have been touched by tragedy too many times in recent years, but they are strong communities, and I know they will bear these sad events with dignity and fortitude.

I would also like to pay tribute to the police and emergency services. In my short time as Home Secretary, I have been struck by the bravery, professionalism and sense of duty that police officers demonstrate every single day. Yesterday, the men and women of Cumbria Constabulary, aided by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, neighbouring police forces and other emergency services, showed these qualities in abundance. They have the support and admiration of the whole House as they go about rebuilding the lives of people in Cumbria.

I spoke yesterday to Chief Constable Craig Mackey, and we talked again this morning. He has told me that his force is now conducting a full and thorough investigation to find out exactly what happened, how and why. More than 100 detectives have been assigned to the task. Their investigation will look into Derrick Bird's history, his access to firearms and the motivations for his actions.

As I said yesterday, while the police investigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any details beyond what has been released by Cumbria Constabulary, but I would like to tell the House what I can. Twelve people were killed yesterday, in addition to Derrick Bird. There were 11 casualties who were being or have been treated in hospitals in Whitehaven, Carlisle and Newcastle. Of those, four are stable, four are comfortable and three have been discharged. The police are confirming the identity of those who died and names are being released by Cumbria Constabulary as and when formal identification is confirmed and the immediate family informed. More than 30 family liaison officers have been working throughout the night to formally identify the 12 people who were killed and to notify their relatives.

The police investigation is being led by a major incident group from the police headquarters in Penrith, and there are 30 different crime scenes. Derrick Bird's body was located in woodland near Boot at around 1.40 pm. No shots were fired by police officers. At this stage, the police believe he took his own life. Two weapons were recovered by police and are being examined by forensic experts. They are a shotgun and .22 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight. Derrick Bird was a licensed firearms holder. He had held a shotgun licence since 1995 and a firearms licence for the .22 rifle since 2007. I can now tell the House that the police have confirmed to me that his licences covered the firearms seized yesterday.

I will visit Cumbria tomorrow so that I can meet Chief Constable Mackey and other senior officers in person and make sure that they have all the support they need to complete their important work, but I can also announce today that I will, if necessary, provide additional funding for Cumbria Constabulary through the police special grant facility. I have spoken this morning to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who has asked his department's emergencies management team to contact the local authorities involved to see what support and assistance they need. My right honourable friend the Minister for Civil Society will talk to charities working in Cumbria, and is looking at ways to provide them with extra support at a time when their work will be vital in helping the community to recover.

Undoubtedly, yesterday's killings will prompt a debate about our country's gun laws. That is understandable, and indeed right and proper, but it would be wrong to react before we know the full facts. Today, we must remember the innocent people who were taken from us as they went about their lives. Then, we must allow the police time to complete their investigations.

When the police have reported, the Government will enter into, and lead, that debate. We will engage with all interested parties, we will consider all the options, and we will make sure that honourable Members have the opportunity to contribute. I will talk to my right honourable friend the Leader of the House about the best way to ensure that Members have such an opportunity before the Summer Recess.

Mass killing as we experienced yesterday is fortunately extremely rare in our country, but that does not make it any the less painful, and it does not mean that we should not do everything we can to stop it happening again. Where there are lessons to be learnt, we will learn them. Where there are changes to be made, we will make them. But, for now, let us wish the injured victims a speedy recovery, remember the 12 innocent lives that were taken, and pray for the families and friends they leave behind".

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Labour 12:51 pm, 3rd June 2010

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by the Home Secretary in another place, and I am sure I speak for the whole of this House when I say that we join the Home Secretary in sending our condolences to all those who are affected by this tragedy in west Cumbria.

A number of noble Lords live in the county of Cumbria-the noble Lords, Lord Henley, Lord Judd, Lord Inglewood, Lord Clark of Windermere, Lord Dubs, me and others-and we have seen at first hand the resilience of west Cumbria in the face of the devastation of last year's floods, the tragedy of the loss of young people's lives in a major road accident a week ago, and now this tragedy. We also share the Home Secretary's admiration for the speedy response of the emergency services and the police yesterday to a wholly unplanned and unforeseen tragedy. It is a tribute to them that the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Lancashire and Cumbria constabularies could work so quickly together, undoubtedly reassuring the natives of Cumbria in that very difficult situation.

The co-ordination at that stage has proved to be wholly successful. Hopefully that will continue. I note the comprehensive nature of the Home Secretary's Statement and that, if necessary, additional funding will be made available. It seems to be almost beyond doubt that it will be. The 100 detectives who are being deployed from Cumbria, and perhaps from elsewhere, on this case alone will dig deep into the reserves of that relatively modestly sized police force, and the news that the local authorities will also be offered assistance is welcome.

Some questions need to be asked, but I am not sure that now is the time to ask them. Basically, the only question that comes to my mind immediately is that there are health checks by doctors when people apply for licences to own shotguns and so on, but are people who go on holding those licences adequately supervised afterwards? After all, the incidents that have occurred have not happened immediately after a licence was offered and accepted by an individual. I hope that those questions will be dealt with as the policy inquiry fulfils its task and, as the Statement says, as the Home Secretary and the Government inquire into this further.

The resilience of west Cumbria is being tested, and the Home Secretary's visit tomorrow will be appreciated. I understood from listening to the Statement in the other place that the Prime Minister will also go. That will give great comfort to the people. I also join in the tribute to Jamie Reed, my honourable friend the Member of Parliament for that area, who manfully and most effectively stood up and represented his constituents in the floods and now has that task again.

Basically, our task here today is one of solidarity with the people of west Cumbria. As the noble Baroness said when she repeated the Home Secretary's Statement, these tragedies are few and far between but we must learn the lessons. At this moment, however, our thoughts go out to all those who are affected, as does our sympathy for the relatives of those who were injured and killed.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his sympathy for those who have suffered. I am sure that he expresses the sentiment of the whole House, to which I add my own. Hutton Roof is in Cumbria, so I too have connections with the county and feel this loss personally.

The noble Lord is quite right that this is a small force with a big task ahead of it. As he rightly said, the Government will make sure that it has the resources necessary to carry out that task, and we will look, as I have said, at the lessons to be learnt, but the House will probably agree that we should not draw conclusions precipitately. As he also rightly said, the resilience of west Cumbria is being tested. I thank the House for the understanding that has been exhibited. I have no doubt that we will hear more when the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have visited in person.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 12:56 pm, 3rd June 2010

My Lords, as someone who lives just a few miles from where these terrible events happened, may I say how much the solidarity of the House will be appreciated in the community? I thank the Minister for the messages that she has sent. Of course our primary consideration must be the people who are affected, those who have died and those who have been injured.

I am also glad that the Minister has emphasised so strongly the terrific role played by the Cumbrian police. They are a small force that is, thank God, not frequently confronted with events of this magnitude, and the way in which they have stretched themselves to meet it is highly impressive, but we need, particularly in modern times, to look very closely at whether they have all the support and equipment that they need for all eventualities. Without in any way being alarmist, I make the point that this is particularly important in an area with such security sensitivity around the nuclear industry on the west coast. This cannot be ignored in the considerations and assessments that are being made. I noticed that the gates of Sellafield were closed yesterday for a while, which underlines the point.

In a small, closely knit community, the shock and psychological impact cannot be overestimated. It is particularly sad that this has happened when the community is still grieving over the horrible school coach crash of just a few days ago and still recovering, albeit a few miles away from this incident, from the worst effects of the dreadful flooding last autumn. This is a great deal for a close-knit community in Cumbria to bear, and the county will need all possible support. In saying how much the support of the Government and the House will be appreciated, and how great the needs are, I must say that the resilience and courage of the people of Cumbria are very special. I am constantly challenged by the spirit of the people of Cumbria, and I am someone who after nearly 20 years in Cumbria is still firmly regarded as an offcomer there.

I hope we can all bear in mind that this incident has emphasised that sanity and rationality are very fragile. In all that we do in politics, how we nurture sanity and rationality in human affairs must be central to our considerations.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop

Perhaps I may associate these Benches with the sentiments expressed this afternoon. These events challenge very much the whole culture of a community and the place of faith in the way in which we interpret the vulnerability of our humanity. Such events expose the nature of our humanity, sometimes at its most raw, but also, as noble Lords have testified, at its very best. We pay tribute to the people of Cumbria, who have already demonstrated in recent tragic events their capacity to pull together, to grow together and to move forward together. We are confident that they will do the same as a result of the tragic events of yesterday.

On behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle I pay tribute to the way in which the public services, particularly the police and the health service, responded to these events and the way in which they have chosen to work in partnership with faith communities in the areas affected. He has worked with his ecumenical partners to ensure that the resources of the churches and faith communities are made available in fullest measure to those most affected by what has happened. Today, as has been already said, it is for us not to look at some of those other questions which will no doubt need to be addressed as a result of such eventualities, but simply to offer our thoughts and prayers to those affected and declare on these Benches the solidarity of the faith communities with all those who seek to bring support, encouragement, succour and relief to those damaged by these events and the communities wherein they live.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it seems trite to say that our thoughts are with the people in the area who have had these blows following so many others. For myself, I do not think that I can get my mind into the place where theirs must be. I absolutely understand the point made by the noble Baroness that we must not be too precipitate, but on this occasion we have to frame our points as questions. Therefore, does she appreciate the concern of many of us that when the review takes place, the needs of the mental health service, which for so long has been something of a Cinderella in our health service, are very much up there as part of the considerations?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the right reverend Prelate have made points on which I think that we all agree; that is, primarily, at the moment we need to think about the situation of the people of Cumbria and the resilience that they are having to show in considerable adversity. Not only was there the recent bus crash, but previously there was devastating flooding. This goes to the heart of close-knit communities which may not be particularly prosperous, where recovery is a long process, both materially and physically. Our hearts go out to them and the House will want to continue to express its solidarity with the people of Cumbria.

The noble Baroness also raised a relevant point. We do not know precisely what was in the mind of the perpetrator of these acts. Whether we shall get to the bottom of that is not clear. But the National Health Service certainly has to pay as much attention to mental health as it does to physical.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the measured response to this extremely tragic incident and hope that we do not react too quickly. I am a little concerned by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on whether the local police were properly equipped to deal with this. If that resulted in large numbers of armed police in Cumbria, I could see accidents happening, which would be extremely regrettable. I am one of the few people who voted against the ban on handguns after Dunblane. At that time we pointed out that many more guns were held illegally than were held legally and did not think that a ban on legally held guns would make any difference. That has been proved tragically right, in that handgun crime has risen inexorably ever since Dunblane.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My Lords, to add to what has just been said, I am sure that we should not be precipitant. Obviously, we need to draw conclusions when it is right to do so. The time will come possibly after we have had a report from the chief constable and the Home Office has had a chance to consider it. Then we can look at the next steps. If it is necessary to do more on the firearms front, although I think that we should be cautious about changing the law yet again, we will look at that.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, I have no doubt that in the next few days and weeks there will be shrill cries from tabloid editors for immediate action. I know that the Government will steel themselves against the temptation to surrender to any such demands. I associate myself with the most sober and sincere views expressed in every part of the House in relation to this appalling tragedy.

This is certainly not the time to come to any decision, but when the police report has been fully considered and analysed, will the Government give thought to setting up an in-depth inquiry to consider whether, of the scores of thousands of persons who hold firearms and shotgun licences, and those many thousands who apply for them and sometimes do not manage to obtain them, there is some screening method that could point to certain areas of danger? In other words, are there factors that cast their long shadows before them? I am sure that the Government will give full consideration to that.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My Lords, this is a very interesting idea on the part of the noble Lord. We will certainly take that away. As everyone in your Lordships' House knows, we have strict firearms laws, which are probably some of the strictest in the world, and there are relatively few licensed firearms holders. Of course, that is a separate issue from the number of weapons that may be in the country illegally. Whether it will be right to take the whole question of the basis on which people hold those licences further is a matter that we will consider when we get the report and can see the circumstances of the episode.

Photo of Lord MacKenzie of Culkein Lord MacKenzie of Culkein Labour

My Lords, everyone is touched by the horror of what happened yesterday in Whitehaven. Perhaps those of us who have connections with that part of the world feel it even more so. I lived in Whitehaven for a number of years. Some of my children went to school there. I trained as a nurse at West Cumberland Hospital, which treated many of the patients who were tragically injured yesterday. As a theatre nurse there I participated in major incident planning, but in our wildest dreams one could not have envisaged anything like what happened. Our hearts go out to everyone concerned.

While I accept entirely that a knee-jerk reaction would be completely senseless, does the Minister share my concern, or perhaps my distaste, at the gun lobby rushing to the airwaves yesterday seeking to limit any possible review of gun licensing and the holding of these weapons?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I entirely agree that it was highly inappropriate.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative

As the Minister said, mass murder as we experienced it yesterday is fortunately extremely rare in our country. It is also extremely rare in all countries. Does she agree that the issues that this tragedy in my home area has thrown up require consideration, bearing in mind that many of the arguments deployed more generally in respect of guns, gun crime and safety from gun crime may not necessarily be pertinent?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord. It is not only the general proposition that we have to consider but also the local circumstances. Clearly, we need to know a great deal more about the background to this before it is sensible to draw conclusions for the whole country.

Photo of Lord James of Blackheath Lord James of Blackheath Conservative

My Lords, I wonder whether we should ask official sources and the press to consider a possible amendment to a word that appears in statements on our screens at the moment. After two former tragic events, an aircraft crash and a railway crash, I have found that the use of the word "incident" is hugely offensive to local communities. For others, it talks down the significance of what has befallen them. It would be far better if the screens said "Cumbrian shooting tragedy" or just "Cumbrian shootings". That would be less offensive, and I think that we should send a message to the outside world.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am sure that the House will take note of what the noble Lord has said.