AN increasing number of registered firearms are being stolen in West Yorkshire every year, according to police records.
The latest figures show there are nearly 14,000 certificates for shotguns and Section 1 firearms held by around 11,000 people across the county.
And West Yorkshire Police reveals that thefts of those registered firearms have risen by 375 per cent over the last three years.
It comes less than six months on from the revelation that a rifle stolen from a registered holder was used in the murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox last summer.
The rifle was one of 15 legally held firearms and shotguns reported to West Yorkshire Police as stolen during 2015/16.
This number more than doubled during the following year to 38 – up significantly from the eight stolen in 2014/15.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom said the force’s focus remained largely on stopping any thefts in the first place.
“It’s the old prevention is better than cure,” he said. “The overwhelming number of certificate holders are law-abiding people using firearms for perfectly legitimate purposes and we want to support them in doing that.
“The main area where we can encourage and support is around firearms being looked after securely in the home or a vehicle when they’re being transported to different points.”
The .22 rimfire weapon used by Thomas Mair to murder Mrs Cox was stolen from a vehicle in Keighley in August 2015.
But the question of how he came to possess the weapon remains the subject of an ongoing investigation by the force.
Speaking after Mair’s conviction in November, Detective Superintendent Nick Wallen said it was believed he had got the weapon, previously held legally, just weeks before the murder.
He said: “How he, an anti-social loner with no previous criminal history, no criminal ring of individuals around him, came into possession of it is very much an active line of enquiry.”
The 38 registered firearms stolen last year, including 26 shotguns, resulted from 17 thefts.
Mr Milsom said: “Some people have a number of licenses linked to them. Some have a shotgun certificate, which is the most common one, and some farmers will have a rifle to shoot vermin as well as a shotgun.”
He said the firearms were mostly taken during burglaries or stolen from vehicles and 16 had been recovered already. But the task of establishing whether a recovered firearms was once legally owned can be difficult, particularly in the case of shotguns.
“If those do get into criminal hands, they’re usually cut short and the serials numbers are taken off,” Mr Milsom said. “It’s normally very hard to identify them.”
The force carries out spot checks on owners to check how firearms are being stored, with failings potentially resulting in revocation of certificates.
“If people aren’t looking after their weapons properly or safely that increases the likelihood of them falling into criminal hands,” Mr Milsom said.
In the year up to early March, 88 certificates were revoked by West Yorkshire Police.
The three most common reasons are improper storage, mental health issues or the holder being involved in a criminal offence.
These are not necessarily firearms related and could include the likes of drink driving, theft or domestic violence.
Mr Milsom said: “We do monitor and deal with breaches. We probably revoke as many firearms as any other force in the country.”