POLICE in parts of Yorkshire have been forced to write to thousands of firearms licence holders to check what guns they own after discovering a member of staff had been recording their details wrongly.
The official in the South Yorkshire Police firearms licensing team was dismissed for misconduct in February for either “inaccurately recording” updated information submitted by gun owners or not recording it at all.
It means the force has now had to contact all 9,000 of its licence holders in writing and ask them to confirm their details to ensure it has the correct records on file.
Bosses say it is not clear why the female member of staff failed to record the information and fear it will not now be possible to discover how many firearms licences she recorded incorrectly.
A leading shooting organisation says the failure to update records “could potentially undermine the duty to preserve public safety”.
So far 4,500 of the licence owners have responded since receiving letters in May, but officers may have to visit the remainder in person if they fail to confirm their details.
Chief Superintendant Rob Odell said the training given to firearms licensing officers was not the cause of the problem.
He said: “We are in a situation not of our making but we are trying to deal with it in as quick and pragmatic a way as possible. We are keen to assure our records and this is the best way to do it.”
Mr Odell said it became apparent in October that records of changes such as licence holders moving house or changing the type of gun used were not being updated.
Bill Harriman, director of firearms at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the UK’s largest shooting organisation, said: “South Yorkshire Police has an abysmal record when it comes to firearms licensing so this revelation comes as no surprise to me. When BASC members started receiving these letters, we suspected something was wrong with police record keeping.
“Firearms certificate holders must be law-abiding and meet very strict criteria for owning a firearm. To see such a failing on the police side is shocking.
“Neglecting to record critical information such as changes of address or changes of firearm could potentially undermine the duty to preserve public safety.”
A police spokesman said officials have written to all firearms licence holders in the county to “ensure the accuracy of their records”.
“Police are confident they have accurate records of the people who are registered firearms licence holders,” he said.
“The integrity of police-held information needs to be assured and South Yorkshire Police acted as soon as possible to ensure this is the case.
“The firearms licence holding community are consistently co-operative with police enquiries and this has been demonstrated by the high-degree of co-operation so far.”
South Yorkshire Police has been scanning in all its paper firearms licences to make sure it has an electronic record ahead of its move to a new headquarters.
Prospective gun owners have to apply to their local police force for a licence to ensure that convicted criminals are not allowed to own dangerous weapons.
It costs £50 to apply licence for new owners, £40 for a renewal and £26 for the variation of a licence.