PLYMOUTH: Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (center) arrives with Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police, Shaun Sawyer (left) and Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, Luke Pollard (second right), to lay a floral tribute to the victims of the August 12 shootings in Plymouth, in North Down Crescent Park in the Keyham area, southwest England, yesterday. - AFP

LONDON: Police said on Friday they were investigating the background of a troubled loner who obtained a firearms license and shot dead five people including his mother and a three-year-old girl, in Britain's first mass shooting in 11 years. No motive has emerged for Thursday evening's bloodshed at the hands of 22-year-old gunman Jake Davison, who killed himself after the six-minute spree in Plymouth, southwest England, not far from western Europe's biggest naval base.

But ruling out terrorism, including with far-right groups, Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that Davison's first victim was his 51-year-old mother, Maxine, at her house in a quiet residential area. Davison then shot and killed toddler Sophie Martyn and her father, Lee, 43, on the street outside, before taking the lives of another man and woman nearby, the police said. Another two locals received "significant" but not life-threatening gunshot wounds, they said, adding that as of 2020, Davison held a valid firearms license.

But as questions mounted over Davison's past, Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked the emergency services, and expressed concern at the misogyny apparent in the gunman's social media accounts. He told reporters he was "appalled" at the sexism and said: "I think this is something that will undoubtedly be part of the investigation."

Gun permit probe

Home Secretary Priti Patel stressed the government was addressing online extremism in forthcoming legislation that seeks to hold social media companies to greater account. She said it would also look into how Davison obtained a gun permit, as independent police investigators opened a probe into the approval of a license in his case by the regional force. Britain's police watchdog said it would investigate why Davison was handed back his shotgun and accompanying permit in July.

They had been taken away from him by police in December 2020 "following an allegation of assault in September 2020," the Independent Office for Police Conduct said in a statement. Churches and schools in Plymouth opened their doors for locals to mourn and receive counseling if needed. "We weep with those who weep," said Plymouth's Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Nick McKinnel.

City leaders planned Friday evening to illuminate Smeaton's Tower, a local landmark, as "a beacon of light on a very dark, dark day for Plymouth". A single gun was recovered from the scene after Davison shot himself, but the police were unable to confirm witness accounts that it was a pump-action shotgun. Britain has some of the Western world's toughest gun controls and police are not routinely armed. Gun crime rates are among the lowest in the world. According to the latest government figures, in the year to March 2020, 30 people were killed by shooting in England and Wales-the equivalent of four percent of homicides in the 12-month period.

'YouTube rants'

Private ownership of handguns was outlawed in nearly all cases after a school massacre in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996, which claimed the lives of 16 young pupils and their teacher in Britain's worst mass shooting to date. But ownership of sporting rifles and shotguns is allowed, subject to strict licensing rules. Licenses last five years, and are meant to be granted only after thorough police background checks, including for mental illness. Britain's last mass shooting was in June 2010, when taxi driver Derrick Bird killed 12 people in Cumbria, northwest England.

Davison's social media channels on Facebook, YouTube and Reddit indicated an interest in guns, right-wing libertarian politics and "shoot-em-up" video games. The content suggested a self-pitying loner, alienated from his family and hostile to women, identifying with the "incel" (involuntary celibate) subculture. Prior to being taken down, his YouTube content mostly showed him lifting weights in his home gym.

One message featured a misogynistic rant to camera. In the last upload, on July 28, he spoke of feeling "beaten down" and "defeated by life". The last external video Davison "liked" on YouTube, this week, was of a series of shots fired from a World War II US rifle. On his now-deleted Facebook account, Davison listed his employer as Babcock International, a UK engineering company that is a major player in Plymouth's historic naval docks. Davison was reportedly a trainee crane operator in the docks, after working as a scaffolder in his late teens. - AFP