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Police failures contributed to mother and daughter’s murder

Jurors listed five failings by Surrey Police and its Firearms Licensing Department that ‘more than minimally contributed to’ the women’s deaths.

Lucy Lee was shot dead alongside her mother (Surrey Police/PA)
Lucy Lee was shot dead alongside her mother (Surrey Police/PA)

Numerous failures by police contributed to the murder of a mother and daughter shot dead by a puppy farmer more than five years ago, a jury inquest has ruled.

Jurors listed five failings by Surrey Police and its Firearms Licensing Department that “more than minimally contributed to” the women’s deaths.

Christine Lee, 66, and Lucy Lee, 40, were killed by 82-year-old John Lowe at Keepers Cottage Stud, Farnham, in February 2014.

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Christine Lee was killed by John Lowe (Surrey Police/PA)

He was convicted of murder later that year and jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years.

Lowe died in a hospice last August, aged 86.

Following his trial at Guildford Crown Court, it emerged the shotgun Lowe used had been confiscated by police but handed back seven months before the murders.

This was despite an allegation he had threatened to kill Lucy Lee’s sister Stacy Banner with a gun in March 2013.

An inquest into the deaths of the two women opened at Surrey Coroner’s Court last month.

After more than 15 hours of deliberation the inquest jury delivered their verdict on Friday afternoon.

In their written conclusion, finding Ms Lee and her daughter were unlawfully killed, the inquest jury detailed the police failings.

They said Surrey Police failed to have a system in place “to ensure that the decision whether or not to return a shotgun certificate and shotgun to a certificate holder following removal pending a criminal investigation was made or approved by a senior police officer”.

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John Lowe died in a hospice last year (Surrey Police/PA)

The force’s Firearms Licensing Department failed to “investigate sufficiently” whether it was safe to return the shotguns to Lowe following the threat to kill allegation in March 2013, the jury said.

They also ruled the department failed to “consider all the evidence and information available to it” and failed “to apply the correct standard of proof” when deciding whether to revoke or return Lowe’s shotguns and licence.

A final failure saw the department fail to recommend the revocation of Lowe’s shotgun licence in July 2013 and the consequential failure by Surrey Police to revoke the certificate, the jury ruled.

The inquest heard that Christine Lee and Lowe first met in the 1980s during a visit to his property to buy a puppy.

Despite Lowe living with his long-term partner Sue Wilson, Ms Lee and her daughters later moved in with them.

The girls came to regard Lowe and Ms Wilson like parents, the jury was told.

Lowe and Ms Lee’s relationship ended several years later and she and her family left the property.

By 2012 Mrs Banner was living in Aldershot with her husband and a chance meeting with Lowe led to her returning to care for an unwell Ms Wilson until her death in March 2013.

That same month Mrs Banner, 45, told police that Lowe had threatened her with a shotgun and officers removed his weapons and began to investigate.

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Lowe denied making the threat and Mrs Banner subsequently made a statement saying she did not support his prosecution.

No further action was taken and in July 2013 Surrey Police returned the shotguns.

Jurors said the Firearms Licensing Department had a range of evidence available to them when considering whether or not to revoke Lowe’s licence.

They said that in August 1996 a Surrey Police report recommended revoking Lowe’s shotgun certificate “on the grounds of evidence of domestic violence and intemperate behaviour and a perceived risk of the perpetrator using extreme violence to anybody including police”.

Jurors observed Lowe did not disclose medical conditions in a 2010 firearms licence renewal application, but a GP letter following the seizure of his weapon in 2013 referred to a number of conditions existing at the time of the application.

Local authorities had information that Lowe failed to comply with dog breeding licensing requirements on two occasions, the jury highlighted.

They said Surrey Police had a report concerning allegations of fraud against Lowe, which indicated he was likely to be arrested.

The jury concluded: “FLD did not take fully into account all the evidence available to them.

“FLD did not make further enquiries into the references to domestic violence, potential mental health issues and the nature of the CID fraud investigation.”

Jurors said the review of Lowe’s shotgun licence return could have been postponed pending the outcome of the fraud investigation.

They noted there was no nationally accredited firearms licensing training at the time, with new recruits in Surrey spending a week learning office systems and administration, followed by a week shadowing an experienced staff member.

Following the verdict, Coroner Richard Travers offered his condolences to Mrs Banner and said he would be producing a prevention of future deaths report recommending that a new training course offered by South Yorkshire Police is made mandatory for firearms enquiry officers.

A tearful Mrs Banner was comforted by supporters following the jury’s verdict.

In a statement she said: “Despite his known history of violence, and that all his victims were women family members, the officers dealing with John Lowe after he threatened to kill me totally failed to identify the clear risk to women that he posed.

“This failure has cost my mum and sister their lives. All the police had to do was read the file. Instead they put a gun in John Lowe’s hands.

“It makes me question how many other women suffering domestic violence are not being listened to.”

Her solicitor, Sarah Ricca, said: “In fighting for justice for her mum and sister, Stacy Banner has stood up for the right of all women to equal protection from the law.

“She has also challenged the inadequacies in the gun licensing systems within Surrey Police and nationally.

“We now look forward to the coroner’s recommendations to ensure lessons are learned. Stacy’s fight for justice will continue.”

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