Police criticised for ‘giving guns back to killer’

John Lowe killed family at his puppy farm. Picture: PA
John Lowe killed family at his puppy farm. Picture: PA
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A WOMAN whose mother and sister were shot dead has blamed police for returning the murder weapon to the killer seven months before he used it to gun them down.

Dog breeder John Lowe, 82, was found guilty at Guildford Crown Court yesterday of murdering his partner and her daughter at his puppy farm.

He shot 66-year-old Christine Lee and her daughter Lucy Lee, 40, with a shotgun he used for killing rats at his property near Farnham, Surrey, in February.

Christine’s other daughter, Stacy Banner, said: “The shotgun was one of seven that had been returned to him by the police only months before he used it to kill.”

She added: “John Lowe pulled the trigger but it was the Surrey Police who put the gun in his hands.”

Surrey Police apologised to the family after Lowe’s shotguns were returned to him in July of last year, following their confiscation the previous March.

The force said two reports indicated the decision was “flawed” and vowed to “co-operate fully” with an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation.

Speaking outside court, Mrs Banner said Lowe “brutally and deliberately murdered my mum and my sister by shooting each of them at close range with a shotgun – they did not stand a chance”.

She added: “My life stopped when their lives ended on 23 February this year. It will never be the same for me or my children who have lost their aunt and ‘Nanny Burger King’.”

She also called for the way gun licensing decisions are made to be changed.

She said: “Licensing cannot be left entirely up to the police. There needs to be thorough and regular multi-agency assessments for would be gun-holders.

“And the cost of a shotgun licence needs to be significantly increased.”

Surrey Police said three of its employees are being investigated for gross misconduct over the decision to return Lowe’s gun.

Officers seized a shotgun ­licence and a number of shotguns belonging to Lowe in March last year but returned them after an assessment.

The force is also reviewing all cases where guns have been removed and then returned to people in the past three years.

In a statement, it said: “We commissioned two independent reports by firearms licensing experts. The initial findings from both reports indicate the decision was flawed and did not meet national standards.”

Lowe, who suffers severe arthritis in his hands, lived at the farm for 45 years and the court heard he had been handling shotguns since the age of seven.

He met Christine Lee 25 years ago when she came to buy a horse for one of her daughters.

They later started a relationship despite him living with his long-term partner Susan Wilson. After Ms Wilson died from cancer in 2013, he moved Christine in, with Lucy later joining them.

On 23 February this year, armed police arrived at the farm in the Surrey stockbroker belt and found Christine and Lucy dead.

The court heard that Lowe told officers the women “treated me like s***”, accusing them of starving him and trying to put him in a home so they could take his land.

He told one officer: “They had to be put down. There was nothing else I could do.”

IPCC commissioner Jennifer Izekor said: “Two women have tragically lost their lives, and their family and friends deserve to know the circumstances in which the guns were returned to Mr Lowe. It also is in the interests of the wider public that Surrey Police’s decision-making in these circumstances is independently scrutinised.”