Was the shop-a-gun-owner hotline launched after secretive lobbying campaign?

New evidence has come to light showing that the withdrawn shop-a-gun-owner Crimestoppers hotline, championed by Chief Constable Andy Marsh, Britain’s top firearms licensing cop, may have cost taxpayers up to £15,000 as a result of secretive lobbying by a murky anti-shooting group.

Bobby Turnbull, who lost his mother Alison, 44, sister Tanya, 24, and aunt Susan McGoldrick, 47, after the avoidable murders carried out by Durham man Michael Atherton, had been used as a frontman for a campaign to introduce the hotline, which was rolled out in October last year with no consultation or warning.

Atherton held a shotgun certificate issued by Durham Police. The force seized his shotguns over domestic violence concerns but later returned them to him – a decision that was very heavily criticised by the coroner. Despite this lethal blunder by police employees charged with ensuring public safety, no individual was disciplined and the head of the licensing department managed to keep her job.

The Crimestoppers shop-a-gun-owner hotline was swiftly withdrawn following a massive public backlash, though Chf Con Marsh has indicated he will ignore the near universal condemnation the hotline received and attempt to reintroduce it in the near future – something that BASC, which voiced support for the original hotline launch, has dismissed. It is thought that the introduction of a hotline designed to stigmatise licensed firearms owners is one of Marsh’s pet personal projects, given his single-minded determination to foist it on the licensed firearms community.

Now, however, UK Shooting News can reveal that the 4-member-strong Gun Control Network, along with private police company ACPO, had been working on plans to introduce the hotline as early as February 2014.

The Newcastle Chronicle, which, unusually for a British regional newspaper, has declared itself a firm opponent of all shooting sports, reported at the time that Turnbull had had a private meeting with policing minister Damian Green about the hotline. He was supported by the GCN and by ACPO, which has since rebranded itself as the National Police Chiefs’ Council to evade an order from Home Secretary Theresa May that ACPO was to be shut down.

The Chronicle reported: “Bobby said that in a private meeting with Green he was told [Green] would consider the proposal but it would mean securing £15,000 to set it up. He is to meet with Gill Marshall, from the Gun Control Network, to discuss the plans and he is hoping to receive backing from charity Crimestoppers.”

There is no indication of where the £15,000 subsequently came from, possibly indicating that ACPO ordered police money to be spent on setting up the doomed initiative.

In October, as the hotline was launched under the auspices of Crimestoppers, the Chronicle talked to a spokeswoman for ACPO who confirmed that Chf Con Marsh had been in contact with Turnbull to discuss ways he could help promote the line. The Home Office refused to confirm details of the meeting to the newspaper.

The Gun Control Network has just four members: former Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews; his wife Gill, who calls herself the group’s chairman; Brighton University professor Peter Squires, who used to call himself an ACPO adviser until UK Shooting News prompted a denial from ACPO of any link between them and Squires; and one Christine “Chrissy” Hall, who has links to the Snowdrop Campaign which successfully campaigned for pistols to be banned in 1997.

The GCN does not allow members of the public to join or register as supporters. It does not appear to represent anyone other than its virulently anti-shooting members. Despite having less than half the numbers of the average parish council, it appears to have unprecedented access to senior police firearms licensing personnel, apparently on request. The GCN does not disclose who funds it, nor does it publish any register of meetings with public officials. Neither are any of the four individuals linked to it registered with any lobbying transparency organisation such as the Association of Professional Political Consultants. A second anti-shooting astroturf* organisation, the Infer Trust, is apparently operated by Gill Marshall-Andrews.

It is clearly highly inappropriate for such a tiny minority interest organisation to have such an unregulated level of access to elected representatives and public officials.

Turnbull appears to be a tragic figure whose personal loss was hijacked by lobbyists and senior police employees to promote their own agenda. UK Shooting News has the utmost sympathy for a man who lost so many close family members in an avoidable tragedy as a direct result (as stated by the Durham coroner) of police failings. It is all the more tragic that the police, who let him down so badly, have turned him into a mouthpiece with which to deflect the blame for their own lethal mistakes onto others.

While UKSN does not have more than gut instinct to go on, the number of media appearances that Turnbull made in connection with anti-gun lobbying campaigns suggests professional PR involvement, possibly from the police themselves. It remains a mystery to this writer how the very people who re-armed the murderer convinced a close relative of his victims to act as a spokesman on their behalf.

  • Astroturf. Contrast with “grassroots activists”; used to describe a group or organisation which presents itself as a spontaneous public movement when in reality it is operated by a small minority with a specific agenda that often runs counter to the public interest.

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