In this story:
- A top end handgun gets stolen from a licensed shooter;
- Five years later, Queensland Police recover it from a crime and advise the owner he will be able to get it back after 3 months when they have finished using it as evidence;
- QldPol then deny knowledge of the gun – which later turns up being registered to another shooter;
- A court case finds the gun now belongs to that second shooter;
- The NSC has written to the Queensland Police Minster seeking a meeting to help ‘right the wrong’ with Peter.
The Colt 45
An armoured car heist in 1991 resulted in the arrest of two individuals, one of who had Peter’s gun.
The police did the right thing by letting Peter know they had his gun. However he was told he was not able to collect it immediately because the police needed to retain it as evidence, but could expect to get his gun back in around three months time.
This was going to be a great result because Peter would finally get this Colt back.
To start the ball rolling, he applied for – and received – a new licence for the gun (at the time, individual guns were licensed, similar to issuing permits to acquire).
Three months later, Peter followed the matter up with Queensland Police, except that they did not know what he was talking about.
Peter still recalls the conversation, where he responded to their denial by saying that it ‘impossible … you rang me 3 months ago’.
Over the following six years, Peter remained on their case.
He even met with then Chief Commissioner, Jim O’Sullivan, who was embarrassed that his force had lost track of the gun.
When your gun … gets registered to someone else
In 2020, Peter happened to find the box the gun came in while at home.
This sparked his curiosity, so he made an enquiry with Queensland Police HQ in Brisbane – who advised that the gun was now registered to another shooter.
Yep, the gun that the police seized and called Peter about so he could get it back, was somehow owned and registered to someone else.
The new owner – “C” – bought the gun from a dealer in 2000, nine years after the police first recovered the gun.
It’s clear to us that C bought the gun in good faith and is not to blame for this. Nor is the dealer and nor is the intermediary who they bought it from, presumably through the police property disposal process. The only one to blame is Queensland Police.
The gun found its way back into the supply chain after going to the Central Exhibits Facility – but the CEF has no record of it. However we know the gun did go into the CEF, because the police’s own registry records show that to be the case.
This wasn’t the only discrepancy.
Even during the trial, it was clear that the police had recorded a host of other incorrect dates. The date of theft according to police was 1992 when the theft occurred in 1986. The police say they recovered the gun in 1994 when it was recovered in 1991.
A further, although less important, discrepancy is that paperwork shows that C took possession of the gun later in 2000, but registry records say he took possession in 2001.
The registry also has no records of the intermediary who purchased the firearm from the police. It’s no wonder they lost the gun.
The court case
When Peter drew this matter to the attention of police in 2020, the officer involved started a process to try and work out who the owner should be, through a court determination.
This started with police seizing the gun off C this was all worked out. The officer made numerous enquiries with places such as the police museum, ballistic records, the Central Exhibit Facility and State Archives. We’re confident the officer did everything he could to track down the gun’s history and took the right steps to try and resolve it.
He then made an application to the Magistrates Court of Queensland (Brisbane) to get a ruling on whose gun it was – Peter’s or C’s?
The case was heard, and the final decision handed down in February 2021.
The whacky ruling
Believe it or not, the court found that the gun now belongs to the C.
The obvious question is how could any of this have happened without Peter being told – or given the opportunity to get his gun back? The affidavit for the police officer even says:
“There is no correspondence that can be located that would indicate whether Police made any effort to contact [Peter] for the return of the item nor is there any document to suggest [sentence unfinished]’”
The main argument raised during the case appears to be that Peter must have moved house without notifying police, making it impossible for them to contact him.
However, that isn’t true.
In addition to the affidavit, there was no evidence that police made any effort to find him, such as through the electoral role or driver licence records. Remember too, that Peter obtained a new licence for the gun shortly after it was recovered, so he made real efforts to be contacted.
When Peter was first contacted (when the gun was recovered), they did so by phone, on a silent number. Peter had held silent numbers since 1986 so was always able to be found.
The more likely explanation is that police made no effort to contact him. That’s why we believe they need the Queensland Police needs to make good for the loss, and provide a replacement.
The fact that this happened is not a complete surprise. In April 2019, the Brisbane Times reported that former public servant, Craig Everett, who worked at the CEF after Peter’s gun went AWOL, pled guilty to stealing firearms from the place.
While this matter did not involve a theft from the facility, Everett’s evidence was that there was a “relaxed attitude … toward process and procedures” at the place, even accusing other officers of condoning property theft and failing to check and document exhibits before destruction.
Registry fails to ring alarm bells
What is also surprising about this case is that at no stage when the gun changed hands both inside and outside QldPol, did the registry flag the fact that the gun had been stolen and belonged to someone else who was easily contactable.
Connecting the dots – especially when the serial number is entered into the system – should have done this.
It means the registry has no more value than being able to be used to issue licences and registration papers. Other than that, it’s a boat anchor.
Queensland’s poor policy culture
The problems with the registry aren’t simply with what happened to just one gun.
We’re sure there will be similar stories that come our way: it’s just that this one is well supported by documents, poor record keeping, and a court case that failed to deliver the right outcome.
A few weeks ago, we revealed that Queensland Police leaked the identity of over 500 firearm licence holders in the Moreton area – exposing them to the same risk of burglary that Peter experienced.
In a few days time, we’ll have another story for you which is far worse, and involves interference by a current minister in a way which we believe raises serious legal questions.
That’s indicative of a very poor political culture that is not good for shooters or the broader community – and in fact is positively dangerous.
Police Minister fails to respond
Prior to publishing this article, the NSC wrote to the Queensland Police Minister, Mark Ryan – the minister with oversight of how the police work.
We asked him to organise a meeting with both Peter and the current Police Commissioner, and provide restitution by providing Peter with a replacement for this stolen 45.
We are still waiting for his response.