HAMPSHIRE’S top police officer has reassured the shooting community it is not being unfairly targeted and that unannounced home visits are to stop legal firearms falling into the wrong hands.

With the terror threat raised recently from substantial to severe, Hampshire’s Chief Constable Andy Marsh called upon gun owners to ensure their firearms are stored securely to prevent them being stolen.

It came as Home Office guidance supported the police making unannounced visits to homes where legal firearms are stored and the launch of a new dedicated hotline encouraging the report of any concerns about guns.

Daily Echo:

However, the chief constable, the national policing lead for firearms and explosives licensing, has admitted these steps may have been “misunderstood” by the shooting community, which was left feeling it could be maliciously targeted by those opposed to shooting.

Now he has announced |the dedicated hotline run through Crimestoppers will close and reassured that home visits will be carried out “professionally” with owners treated with respect.

In a letter, in conjunction with the Countryside Alliance, Chief Constable Marsh said: “Presently there is little evidence of legal firearms users being involved in terrorism but we need to work together to ensure that this remains the case ||and to do everything we can to stop legally held firearms getting into the wrong hands and being misused.”

He added: “The concerns raised have been appreciated, and I would like to provide some reassurance to those in the shooting community who may feel that they are being unfairly targeted. This is not our intention. It would be neither productive nor effective.

“I understand that the dedicated Crimestoppers hotline has caused concerns and anxiety among the shooting community, and in particular among certificate-holders who feel that they could be targeted by those opposed to shooting.

“As a result of listening to those concerns we have agreed that there will no longer be a specific firearms licensing hotline number.”

Latest figures reveal that over the last five years a total of 3,296 licensed firearms and shotguns have been reported as stolen or lost. However, the annual number has fallen from 553 in 2009 to 415 |in 2013.

As previously reported, Hampshire police launched a guns amnesty on Monday which will run until November 21, in a bid to rid the streets of illegal firearms.