Friday, February 26, 1999 Published at 11:39 GMT
Report criticises handgun handover
Dunblane: Sparked handgun ban legislation
Less than half the handgun owners who gave up their weapons under the ban introduced after the 1996 Dunblane massacre have received full compensation.
Most types of handgun were banned under Tory legislation introduced after gun enthusiast Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 children and a teacher at a school in the Scottish town of Dunblane in March 1996.
45% fully compensated
The 1997 Firearms Act was further amended by the Labour government to give the UK some of the most stringent gun ownership laws in the world - leading to the largest handover of legally held weapons in British history.
According to the NAO's statistics - which record up to the end of October 1998 - only 45% of gun owners have been fully compensated, while 10% have received nothing. All other claims were partially settled.
The problems - many of which revolved around owners' refusal to accept the "flat rate" offered for surrendered weapons - could have been reduced by seeking technical advice from outside the Home Office, the report found.
The NAO also found flaws with claim forms that made it difficult to implement cross-checks for both the September 1997 handover of large calibre weapons and the February 1998 handover of smaller calibre weapons.
Possible resale of ammunition
As a result, the Home Office was only able to process 1,050 claims per week, rather than the estimated 4,000, and processing staff had to be doubled to cope.
Planners also failed to take account of the 700 tonnes of ammunition that were handed over, reportedly having anticipated that most would be fired off before guns were surrendered.
The situation was further complicated by a ban on police forces using existing arrangements with the Army to dispose of munitions, except as a last resort.
The measure was introduced just three weeks before the first handover, leaving insufficient time for adequate alternative arrangements to be made with private firms.
And terms of contracts allowed for the possible resale of surrendered ammunition, the report found.
The NAO said that 162,000 weapons were given up - 25,000 fewer than expected - and that police forces had paid widely differing amounts for the guns to be disposed of, with fees ranging between £700 and £1,800 per tonne.
Gun owners had also exploited loopholes in the definition of an illegal handgun and had replaced the weapons handed over with unconventional muzzle-loading pistols and rifles. The result has been only a small fall in the number of firearms currently still held by members of the public.
The handover's planners had, however, made adequate arrangements for the receipt, storage and destruction of guns, and fraudulent claims were only encountered in six of the 26 police forces studied.
The Home Office estimates that it has already made payments totalling £61m up to the end of October 1998, with a final figure posted at approximately £87m for the 72,300 claims made by 55,000 claimants.