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Firearms licensing information should be closely safeguarded, says BASC’s director of firearms Bill Harriman – so why is the RSPCA allowed access to it?

The revelation by the Daily Telegraph that 10 police forces have signed confidential information sharing agreements with the RSPCA will come as a shock to most shooters. It is understood that the information that could be made available includes sensitive details taken from the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS).

The RSPCA has brought some high-profile private prosecutions in the past, including one against the Heythrop Hunt that landed the charity with a bill for legal costs of £326,000. As a matter of principle, I do not believe that private prosecutions should be allowed. While I don’t carry a brief for the Crown Prosecution Service, at least it is an official agency within the criminal justice system and must operate according to a transparent, public code of conduct. There are two stages in the process for the CPS to bring a prosecution: the evidential stage and the public interest stage. Both are objective, which means that before a case comes to court it must have demonstrable prospects for success and it must also be shown that it is in the public interest to bring it to court. From where I sit, the RSPCA has no such objectivity, and recent cases suggest that it appears to have a policy of prosecuting first and asking questions later.

Given this deplorable record in the courts, it is especially worrying that the RSPCA should be able to ask the police to supply personal details of certificate holders. This is sensitive, confidential information, which could have appalling consequences if misused. Certificate holders are always advised to take effective personal security measures and never to advertise the fact that they have guns in their homes. That is sensible and prudent. People who flash the cash too much invariably get blagged. The same applies to guns – if nobody knows you have them, they are less likely to be stolen.

I can remember when Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate proposed that there should be a public register of everyone who had guns. His poorly considered proposal met with huge opposition, most it from his police colleagues who rightly said that such information should be confidential. Such a register would be tantamount to putting a big sign in your garden sayings “Guns stored here. Please help yourself.” Yet barely a decade later, we have the bizarre and worrying situation of 10 chief constables agreeing to hand out the same confidential information to an animal welfare charity that is not well-disposed to shooting.

I wonder what precautions the RSPCA has put in place to safeguard the data. What protocols are in place to prevent its misuse? We know that no system is 100 per cent secure and that there will be leakage, both inadvertent and – sometimes – deliberate. The consequences of such data escaping into criminal hands could have serious and possibly fatal repercussions. I think that it is reckless in the extreme for those 10 chief officers to have done this.

The personal details of firearm and shotgun certificate holders are sensitive and should only be revealed to other government agencies on a need to know basis. In my opinion, the RSPCA does not need to know.

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