Page last updated at 14:01 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 15:01 UK

Lasting legacy of Osbaston House

Jo Garvin
BBC Shropshire

The coroner who conducted the inquest into the deaths of Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their daughter Kirstie in Shropshire called for changes in the way shotgun and firearms licences are issued and renewed.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and Association of Chief Police Officers have discussed ways in which doctors can be made aware of patients who own firearms.

The BMA's plan to "tag" - or highlight - the medical records of patients who have shotgun or firearms licences have received a mixed reaction.

Osbaston House
Osbaston House was totally destroyed by fire

Last August Bank Holiday Mr Foster killed his wife and 15-year-old daughter before setting fire to their home at Maesbrook, near Oswestry, and killing himself.

It emerged at the inquest into the deaths that Christopher Foster had been suffering from depression and had mentioned suicidal thoughts to his GP.

This prompted Mid and North Shropshire coroner, John Ellery to recommend a closer link between the medical profession and the police, who issue gun licences.

In the last few days the British Medical Association (BMA) has said it is about to update its ethical guidance on firearms.

The plan is that medical records would remind the doctor the patient either held a firearms or shotgun certificate, or had applied for one.

'Absolutely wonderful'

The Gun Control Network was set up after the Dunblane tragedy in 1996 when 16 children and an adult were shot by Thomas Hamilton. It campaigns for tighter controls on guns of all kinds.

Spokeswoman, Gill Marshall-Andrews described the new guidelines as "absolutely wonderful".

She said her concern was for the risk faced by the families of gun owners: "If an individual commits suicide, that is a matter for him, but if he is going to kill his family, it is a very different matter."

Christopher Foster
Christopher Foster killed his family with a legally held rifle

Mrs Marshall-Andrews said the Gun Control Network was very supportive of the move by the BMA, but would like consultation with partners and ex partners made a requirement for the granting of licences.

The new guidelines have also been welcomed by the charity, Infer Trust, which offers support and advice to people affected by gun violence.

Spokeswoman Chrissie Hall said: "Anything that makes life safer for individuals who live in a house where there is a weapon, Infer Trust would be keen to support."

Mrs Hall said she had been in contact with the Foster family and put them in touch with other people in similar situations.

Jil and Kirstie Foster's funeral
The Infer Trust counsels people affected by gun violence

Mrs Hall felt that tagging patients notes was a good thing: "I can't imagine why that wouldn't be supported by GPs who are there to care for their patients."

However, the mental health charity, Mind, does not share Infer Trust's views and fears the new guidelines will further stigmatise people with mental health problems.

Spokeswoman Katie Prior said: "The link between violence and mental health problems is often grossly exaggerated. Any tragedies that do occur are terrible, but it's important to recognise that such cases are rare."

She said people with mental health problems were extremely unlikely to be dangerous: "In fact, research shows that they are are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators."

'Vulnerable to theft'

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is not happy with the new guidelines either.

The BASC's senior firearms officer, Mike Eveleigh said: "I believe the BMA's proposals to tag medical records would cause more problems than it would prevent.

Andrew Foster speaks after the inquest

"For example the records could fall into the wrong hands leaving firearms owners vulnerable to theft and certainly the proposed system would create much more work for GPs and the police who are already overstretched."

Mr Eveleigh also said the new guidelines could deter people from seeking medical help if they thought their shotgun or firearms certificate might be revoked.

After the inquest into the deaths, Christopher Foster's estranged brother, Andrew, spoke publicly about his relationship with his brother and the need for greater control over the issuing of gun licences.

He said he had done some research into the subject: "There are 27,000 licensed gun holders in West Mercia alone and 25% will be treated for depression.

"That means 6,500 gun holders are suffering from depression and yet there is no communication between doctors and the police for people who are feeling suicidal."

In a statement the BMA said the guidelines could be used as part of a patient's care, but did not mean that the GP practice had taken on obligations to monitor or oversee the mental health of licence holders.

The BMA is expected to discuss the issue at its cabinet meeting in September.

A spokeswoman for Acpo said: "Acpo and BMA have been exploring a number of options as to how information can be shared, without breaching patient confidentiality, and yet ensuring improved public safety."

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