With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the shootings that took place yesterday in Cumbria. My Rt Hon and Noble Friend, Baroness Neville Jones, will make this statement in the other place.
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 Hon Member for Copeland, who is in Cumbria today. He represents communities that have been touched by tragedy too many times in recent months - 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 the 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 the people of 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 eleven 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 immediate family informed. More than 30 family liaison officers have been working throughout the night to formally identify the twelve people who were killed and notify their relatives.
The police investigation is being led by a major incident group from the police headquarters in Penrith, and there are thirty different crime scenes. Derrick Bird’s body was located in woodland near Boot at around 1.40pm. 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 a .22 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight.
Derrick Bird was a licensed firearms holder. He held a shotgun license since 1995 and a firearms license (for the .22 rifle) since 2007. I can now tell the House that the police have confirmed to me that his licenses covered the firearms seized yesterday.
I will visit Cumbria tomorrow together with the Prime Minister 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’ve spoken this morning to my Rt Hon 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 Hon 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 it is 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 Hon Members have the opportunity to contribute - I will be talking to my Rt Hon Friend the Leader of the House about the best way to ensure Members have such an opportunity before the summer recess.
Mr Speaker, mass killings as we experienced yesterday is - fortunately - extremely rare in our country. But that doesn’t make it any the less painful, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to stop it happening again. Where there are lessons to be learned, 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 twelve innocent lives that were taken, and pray for the families and friends they leave behind.