South Yorkshire fake gun ‘drive-by shooting’ arrests

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FOUR young people have been arrested after a ‘drive-by shooting’ stunt backfired and led to armed police being deployed on a South Yorkshire estate, writes Russ Newton.

Police say the incident illustrates the danger of playing with replica guns - items people can easily mistake for real ones.

The drama unfolded late on Wednesday night, at about 11.40pm, when police were called to reports of a vehicle pulling up on Sprotbrough Road, Doncaster.

One of the occupants, who was wearing a balaclava, pointed what appeared to be a silver revolver towards a group of people walking on the street.

Witnesses took note of the registration number, and police traced the vehicle to an address in Armthorpe, Doncaster.

Armed officers were deployed to the registered keeper’s address and the occupants - a man and a woman, both aged 22 - were arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

Further information led a further armed raid at another address where two men, also both 22, were arrested.

Police say the firearm was recovered and found to be a metal construction imitation firearm, a BB gun firing ball bearings, and was so realistic as to have the appearance of being a real and viable firearm.

The guns are legal to own, but legislation now prevents the sale of any imitation firearm that is realistic to look at and they must be sold in a primary colour.

Insp Rachel Usher, of the force’s firearms support unit, said: “South Yorkshire Police take these kind of incidents very seriously.

“If the information received is such that the public perceives the item to be a real and viable firearm and presenting a threat to public safety, then a firearms response, which is capable of mitigating that threat, will be deployed.

“Public safety is paramount at all times. Firearms deployments are not authorised unless a strict criteria is met which necessitates this kind of policing response to an incident.

“When deploying to these kind of incidents, those found in possession of such items, who may act in such a manner giving rise to the suspicion that it may be a real firearm, must appreciate firearms officers will not be able to distinguish between a viable firearm and an imitation one when it is in the hands of another.

“Officers will be faced with a critical decision around protecting the public and themselves from that perceived threat.

“The risks are that firearms officers may potentially shoot a person who acts in this way.

“When someone is in possession of a BB gun, firearms officers have only seconds in which to make these critical decisions and, invariably, experience tells us these decisions are often made at night-time and in low light when the ability to distinguish real from fake becomes even more difficult.”

Insp Usher said such incidents are ‘thankfully rare’ and, in Doncaster in 2010/2011, there were 34 firearms crimes recorded, none of which involved imitation firearms.

Five years previously there were 114 firearms crimes recorded in Doncaster, of which five involved imitation firearms.

Since 2005 South Yorkshire Police have take a unique education and diversionary programme into every secondary school in South Yorkshire to raise awareness of the dangers of carrying weapons.

Insp Usher added: “South Yorkshire Police strive to engage with the public to raise awareness of this issue, and we have found that since we have been using Twitter - @GKTL - we have increased our presence and contact with the community.

“We are able to reassure people of the positive work we do and engage with people about the risks of becoming involved in carrying weapons.

“We have also found the public enjoy interacting with us and appreciate this level of contact when otherwise they would not have the opportunity to speak to firearms officers and ask questions.”