Government in war over gun amnesty

The Government is heading for a new legal duel with former gun owners who complied with the post-Dunblane gun surrender regulations. They claim the Government has failed to honour its part of the deal to compensate them.

The Home Office has now been given leave to challenge three earlier court decisions, in which Government moves to block a compensation claim by former gun owner David Steed have been thrown out.

But a condition of leave, established at a private hearing before Lords Slynn, Hoffman and Hope, is that the Home Office will have to foot not only the Government's legal costs, but also any legal bill run up by Mr Steed in opposing the move, whatever the outcome.

The case, which is scheduled for next year, will be closely watched by former gun owners, who believe the Government let them down in failing to pay out compensation for guns handed over in accordance with the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act.

Last September, David Steed surrendered his guns to Mole Valley Police and completed a compensation application form claiming a total of £3,298.

Having received no compensation by 27 October, he issued a county court summons.

In February this year, the Home Secretary had paid Steed £1,474 of the claim and applied to strike out the summons arguing that the 1997 Act did not give former gun owners a private law right of action.

The county court judges rejected this argument, holding that the legislature could never have intended to leave gun owners without redress.

In May, the Appeal Court upheld this view. Lords Justices Beldam and Ward said there was nothing to suggest that this decision could not have been appropriately made at county court level.

The Home Office move indicates massive concern over the prospect of a flood of similar litigation, potentially exposing them to thousands of pounds worth of individual claims. Collectively their claims could cost the department millions.