Flags at half mast in Plymouth with city still in shock from shooting

Steady stream of people arrive at police cordons in Keyham to leave flowers and toys in memory of victims

Flags flew at half mast, cultural and sporting events were cancelled and piles of floral tributes and cuddly toys continued to grow as Plymouth began the long, difficult process of trying to recover from the impact of a mass shooting.

Politicians, church leaders and mental health experts said it could take years for the city, especially the tight-knit community of Keyham, to come to terms with the shooting in which Jake Davison killed five people, including a three-year-old child, and her father before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life.

On Saturday in Keyham, a suburb near the naval dockyard, people turned up to sign books of condolence at churches and a school. There was a steady stream of people arriving at the police cordons to leave flowers and toys.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, was among those who paid her respects to the victims. She and the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police, Shaun Sawyer, laid large bouquets among other tributes at North Down Crescent Park, where a vigil was held on Friday evening.

Patel spoke to a local neighbourhood watch coordinator, Kev Sprowston, who told her that the shooting had touched the lives of all residents. “This is our September 11,” he said. “Every single kid, every single adult knows exactly where they were, similar to 9/11. I speak to people who tell me exactly where their brother was, sister was, mother was.”

At the vigil in the park on Friday evening, scores of residents, including dozens of children, came out to light candles.

Patel said: “It’s tragic beyond words. I’m sure everyone will have known each other, this will have touched so many people’s lives. It’s a very sad time. People have seen things that you never want anyone to witness. It’s very difficult.”

She refused to answer questions from reporters over whether gun control laws were tight enough.

The Labour MP Luke Pollard said: “We need answers; if they are difficult, so be it. We’ve got a whole community grieving here. We’ve got a three-year-old killed. We need proper answers.”

Priti Patel looks at floral tributes left in memory of the victims of the shootings
Priti Patel looks at floral tributes left in memory of the victims of the shooting. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Police allowed wellwishers to cross the police line to leave tributes on Biddick Drive, where Davison lived and where the spree began when he shot dead his mother, Maxine, 51.

At the Lidl supermarket where he used to help her shop and where other victims picked up groceries, another pile of tributes grew steadily. Many referred to the death of three-year-old Sophie Martyn, who was shot dead together with her father, Lee Martyn, 43.

One note read: “Our hearts are absolutely broken for the tragic loss of life in our friendly little part of Plymouth. We are just so sad for everyone and especially for the dear little girl and her family.”

Another read: “Sleep tight you beautiful family. Lee and Sophie, you should never have been taken so soon.”

Steve James stopped off on his way to his job in a city centre shop to place a bouquet. “I think the place is still numb,” he said. But there is also growing concern at the revelation that police had reinstated Davison’s firearms licence last month after he attended an anger management course. “What’s all that about?” said James. “I think once the sense of shock wears off, people are going to be asking the police some tough questions.”

People hold up candles and mobile phone torches during a vigil in Keyham
People hold up candles and mobile phone torches during a vigil in Keyham on Friday. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Posters recording the names of Davison’s victims began to appear on lamp-posts and trees in the area. On railings someone had attached green and white balloons – in the colours of the city’s football team Plymouth Argyle – with the five victims’ names on them. The club’s game against Gillingham was going ahead but it was flying its flags at half mast and organising a minute’s silence.

Other events were cancelled. The Hope festival – a football tournament – was called off as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives; the world premiere of a theatrical street event, The Hatchling, featuring what is billed as the largest human-operated puppet, was cancelled.

The mourning will continue. Special church services will be held on Sunday, and on Monday at 11am the city will hold a minute’s silence.

Nick Kelly, the leader of Plymouth city council, said: “We will get through this together, the darkness will lift and we will celebrate the lives of those that will never be forgotten. Plymouth is a big family, and that bond will endure.”

But he said the investigation would focus attention on the scrutiny given to people who were granted firearms licences. “We just need to review it, look at the facts in this specific case and hopefully if tighter legislation is required that will be forthcoming.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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