HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc178-9W
Mr. Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) on what date the decision to suspend compensation payments to handgun owners in the South Yorkshire police constabulary area was made; and for what reasons hon. Members and the relevant shooting organisations were not informed of that decision; [30216]

(2) if he will make a statement on the circumstances leading to the suspension of compensation payments to handgun owners in the South Yorkshire police constabulary area; and when he expects payments will be resumed. [30215]

Mr. Michael

Payments to gun dealers and individual claimants in South Yorkshire under the Firearms Compensation Schemes have been suspended as a result of investigations by the South Yorkshire Police. I have written to all hon. Members in South Yorkshire informing them of this development. The South Yorkshire Police are writing to all the claimants concerned and have set up a telephone inquiry line to keep claimants informed of the progress of the investigations. I understand that three police officers and one civilian employee have been suspended from duty. The first notification to Home Office officials of suspected fraudulent practices in relation to firearms compensation claims from some dealers in South Yorkshire was made on 12 November 1997.

Following a meeting between officials and police investigation officers, payments to South Yorkshire dealers were suspended, and the suspected claims were returned to the police for further analysis. On 26 January 1998, as a result of a further approach from the police investigation team, payments to individual claimants in South Yorkshire were also suspended, pending an emergency audit by the police of the claims received against the items actually surrendered.

It is inevitable that re-examination of claims by the police will cause delay and inconvenience to bona fide claimants, but it is essential that any fraudulent claims are identified. We have arranged with South Yorkshire police for claims to be validated by the police audit team in batches, rather than wait until all of the claims have been rechecked, and the Home Office team will resume processing claims as the batches are received in order to keep delay and inconvenience to a minimum.

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