United Kingdom

Coroner to call for crossbow sales ban after medics say man was doomed the moment neighbour shot him

A coroner is set to call for a national ban on the unregulated sale of crossbows after hearing tragic victim Shane Gilmer was doomed from the second he was struck by his killer's arrow.

The 30-year-old council housing officer was shot and fatally wounded by his crossbow-wielding neighbour Anthony Lawrence in January 2018.

Lawrence, 55, then turned his 'vicious' bow on Shane's pregnant girlfriend Laura Sugden, then 27, wounding her in the scalp.

When Laura tugged the arrow out, he jumped on her and forced the bolt into her throat as she pleaded for the life of Shane's unborn daughter Ella.

She managed to break free and ran 200 yards to her landlords' house - so drenched in blood the wife thought she had been hurled through the windscreen during a car crash.

Lawrence had snapped when told he was being evicted and believed his neighbours had conspired with the letting agents after disputes over his cannabis use and loud music.

An inquest into the death of Shane Gilmer who was killed by crossbow-wielding neighbour Anthony Lawrence has heard how armed police used stun grenades when hunting the suspect

The couple also complained to Humberside Police that Lawrence threatened to kill Shane with an axe when he pleaded with him to turn his music down.

Lawrence was given notice to quit by February 2018 and told he had to leave for repairs to made to the property in the sleepy village of Southburn, near Driffield, East Yorkshire.

But he claimed he knew what was going on because he had been bugging conversations in Laura and Shanes' adjoining semi for a year.

He tore down the breeze block dividing wall in the attic while the young couple were out on a date and Laura's first daughter Isabelle was away for the night.

Sensing something was wrong when they came home at 9pm, Laura checked her daughter's room and found Lawrence lying in wait with his bow.

The coroner Prof Paul Marks was told recluse and survival expert Lawrence owned three crossbows.

He had also doctored the bolts to make the tips more murderous as he plotted his 'premeditated' revenge, it was said.

Firearms expert Sgt David Falcus, who coordinated the armed response team that night, agreed with the coroner's concerns that sale of the 'lethal and vicious' weapons was completely unregulated.

Anyone over 18 could buy a crossbow in a shop or over the internet.

Sgt Falcus added: 'When I hear a crossbow being mentioned we upgrade our body armour and deploy with rifles.'

Shane Gilmer (above, with Laura), 30, died after a crossbow bolt fired by Lawrence broke his arm and a rib, damaged his liver and kidney and became embedded in his spine, court heard

Local Government worker Laura, who gave birth to Ella in the summer of 2019, met the coroner in Chambers on Thursday, to ask that the scope of his inquiry ensured 'lessons were learned' by 999 workers after the tragedy.

There had been concern from the victims' families that Shane was kept on the phone to medics for 30 minutes before help arrived.

But on Thursday's final day of evidence the hearing was told there was little more police or ambulance workers could have done to save him.

Shane lived in a remote village, miles from the nearest hospital, down unlit and twisting country lanes that hampered the 999 vehicles.

Blackpool-based trauma specialist Stephen Mannion, who conducted an independent investigation into the tragedy, agreed delays were 'inevitable'.

The homes of Lawrence (believed to be on the left) and Mr Gilmer (believed to be on the right)

He said Shane had suffered such devastating injuries he would only have stood a realistic chance of survival had he been shot 'on the hospital doorstep'.

The former Royal Marine, who has served as a surgeon in war zones all over the world, agreed with Prof Marks' assertion that 'the dye was cast' the moment the bolt found its mark.

Firearms cop PC Michael Deighton said the armed response team were already on its way towards Southburn at 9.30pm, minutes after Laura raised the alarm.

It took until 9.45pm to reach the village of Hutton Cranswick where they were supposed to put on extra body armour after learning a crossbow had been used in the attack.

In fact, they left only partially kitted up in their protective gear after spotting the blue light of the paramedic first responder as he went past.

Lawrence (right) launched his attack over a belief Shane and Laura (left) had conspired with his letting agent to have him evicted after disputes over his cannabis use and his loud music

What does the law say about crossbows in UK

In the United Kingdom, no licence or registration is required to own or use crossbows, because they are not legally classed as firearms. 

Similar to bats and knives, crossbows can be classed as an 'offensive weapon' if carried in public which could lead to prosecution. 

People can be prosecuted for using crossbows for illegal hunting, or for attacking people, under separate laws. 

For the purposes of UK law, crossbows are defined as a form of bow in which the bow-stave (prod) is fixed crosswise to a stock and can be drawn by hand or lever, before being released by a trigger.

Under the Crossbows Act 1987, crossbows cannot be bought or sold in England, Wales or Scotland by or to those under 18.

Possession is also prohibited by those under 18 years old except under adult supervision.

The act states that crossbows may be used by persons under 18 years of age only when supervised by a person aged 21 years old or over. 

They rushed after him, arriving at 9.55pm to find the paramedic already working on the patient in the blood spattered living room.

He had been escorted in by unarmed local cops despite fears Lawrence could be hiding anywhere in the shadows of the largely unlit village.

Armed cops stormed Lawrence's house, throwing a stun grenade into the master bedroom in case he was behind the closed door with his bow.

They found a listening device with a microphone next to his book case which he had used to eavesdrop on the couple's conversations through the wall, Hull Coroner's Court heard.

On the third day of a nationwide manhunt for Lawrence he was found dead in his camper van on the North York Moors.

A separate inquest is pending on his suspected suicide. 

Earlier in the inquest, the coroner was told how officers felt they were at risk during the manhunt given the secluded location and lack of street lighting.  

On day four of the inquest at Hull Coroners Court, the jury heard evidence from officers who arrived at the hamlet village of Southburn, near Driffield, on January 12, 2018.

One of the first officers at the scene, PC Liam Whittington said he was called to the couple's home after reports of a woman shouting 'he is going to kill me'.

Lawrence had broken into his neighbours' home by removing bricks from their adjoining loft and waiting until the couple returned from their night out at the Gino D'Acampo restaurant in Kingswood. 

Appearing at Hull Coroners' Court, Laura Sugden (pictured arriving at the inquest), said she was shot in the head by Lawrence who cut her throat with the arrow after she removed it

Shane's last words: 'I need to say something. I love my children' 

Shane Gilmer asked emergency services to tell his children he loved them after his neighbour shot and fatally wounded him with a crossbow, an inquest today heard.

Shane Gilmer, 30, called 999 and stayed on the phone for 30 minutes as he bled out after Anthony Lawrence, 55, attacked him and his pregnant partner Laura Sugden in their home.

During the call to emergency services Mr Gilmer said: 'I need to say something. I love my children.'

He said he could not move and there was 'blood everywhere' and could be heard breathing heavily and crying and screaming with pain during the half-hour call, the inquest was told. 

Later in the call, he said: 'I need to tell my mum and dad I love them. I've fallen out with them last week but I really love them. I love Laura, I hope they are all OK.' 

He repeatedly asked where the emergency services were and said they were taking 'too long', the inquest heard.

Towards the end of the phone call, Mr Gilmer said: 'I feel like I'm fading, I've lost so much blood. She sounded so scared. I can't believe this has happened.'

The call ended shortly after police arrived at the house and told Mr Gilmer that Ms Sugden was safe.

The terrifying events that followed saw Lawrence flee the scene while Ms Sugden ran to a neighbouring property for help - despite having her neck slashed.

Armed police and paramedics made their way to the scene of the attack after the alarm was raised by both Ms Sugden and Mr Gilmer in separate 999 calls, one of which captured Mr Gilmer's heartbreaking final words to his children, parents and Laura and their unborn child.

Eight armed police officers arrived at the scene, and after receiving authorisation to enter, 'immediate action' was taken by officers 'to locate victims and then to provide protection for the victims, paramedics and ambulance staff'.

David Falcus, a firearms officer at Humberside Police, relayed to the jury how they made the initial search for the potentially armed assailant.

He told the court: 'I could see [Mr Gilmer] was being tended to by a paramedic and I could see he had a wound to the side of his chest.

'We carried out what we call an emergency search of number 24 looking for further victims.

'I then went directly to number 25, the subject's own house [Lawrence], and commenced a search of that address.

'Upon entering the loft I could see right in front of me a partitioning wall and I could see a number of bricks had been removed from that wall.'

He told the court that officers scoured the address before coming to the final room - the main bedroom - where a stun grenade was thrown in.

The distraction device was used over fears that Lawrence could have been 'hiding' and 'waiting for them'.

He said that because it was the last room to be searched, the main bedroom was 'therefore the most likely place the subject could have been hiding.'

Extra precautions were taken by both paramedics and police officers over the course of the night due to the 'dark time of night' and 'village location'.

The court heard Shane's last words to Laura were instructing her to get out of the house 

Armed police officer Michael Deighton told the court: 'We were in a village location with little street lighting, we were surrounded by fields and we had no idea where the suspect was.'

The officer said he felt at risk as no one knew where the 'armed suspect who may be in the shadows watching us' had gone.

A manhunt for Lawrence was launched and his body was found in a remote area of North Yorkshire inside a campervan three days later and as a result no criminal trial took place. 

In evidence from orthopaedic surgeon, the jury heard how the bolt shot by Lawrence passed through Mr Gilmer's right forearm at an angle into his torso which punctured his spine.

The coroner asked the surgeon whether earlier extrication to hospital would have resulted in Mr Gilmer's life being saved, with previous professionals telling the court that it would not have made a difference.

The surgeon said he 'completely agreed' that earlier extrication wouldn't have made a difference to the outcome of Mr Gilmer's life.

He went on to say that Mr Gilmer had lost 'virtually his entire blood volume' and that unless he had almost immediate attention at hospital 'his chances of survival were always less than 50 per cent'.

The surgeon concluded by saying that had Mr Gilmer arrived at hospital sooner 'he would have had a better chance of survival but still the odds were against him'.

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