What the law says on crossbows - after police say one was used in Bushey triple murder

Police believe the mother and two daughters murdered in Hertfordshire were attacked with a crossbow.

Carol Hunt, the wife of racing commentator John Hunt, and Louise and Hannah Hunt, were discovered with "serious" injuries at a house in Bushey at around 7pm on Tuesday.

They were declared dead at the scene shortly after, with Hertfordshire Constabulary launching a public manhunt for 26-year-old ex-security guard Kyle Clifford the next morning.

Police have since said they believe they were killed with a crossbow and that Clifford, who is still at large, may have one with him.

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A number of deadly crossbow incidents in recent years have sparked calls to bring them under similar licensing rules as guns. Here Sky News looks at what the law says.

What is a crossbow?

A crossbow is a short-range weapon that fires arrow-like projectiles - known as bolts or quarrels - from a frame called a tiller.

Medieval in origin, they are operated in a similar way to a long gun.

They are used in archery and were previously used in a hunting context - although this is now illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

What does the law say?

The Crossbow Act 1987 only makes it illegal to buy, sell, hire, or possess a crossbow if you are under 18.

Beyond that age, you do not need a licence to own one - as is required with guns.

However, if you are found with one in public "without a reasonable excuse" you face a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Following a number of incidents, the previous government ordered a review of crossbow legislation.

The Home Office said they were used in fewer than 10 killings between 2011 and 2021, but that it is "clear that when used as a weapon, they pose a risk".

It launched an eight-week consultation on them in February, which concluded in April, but the general election has prevented the evidence being acted upon until now.

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A Home Office Spokesperson said following the Bushey incident: "We keep legislation under constant review and a call for evidence was launched earlier this year to look at whether further controls on crossbows should be introduced.

"The home secretary will swiftly consider the findings to see if laws need to be tightened further."

Recent crossbow attacks

In 2018, Shane Gilmer died after he and his pregnant wife Laura Sugden were attacked with a crossbow by their neighbour Anthony Lawrence.

He broke into their home in East Yorkshire, killing Mr Gilmer and injuring Ms Sugden, before he was found dead.

Miraculously, the couple's unborn daughter survived.

Mr Gilmer's inquest saw the coroner raise concerns about the lack of controls on the weapons.

Ms Sudgen said earlier this year: "There's nothing I would love more than to see some kind of guidance brought in around crossbows. It's scary to think that anybody can just get hold of them over the age of 18 and I feel like it's the last thing that I can do for Shane, to try and push for them to be brought in line with firearms."

But Raynor Pepper, a competitive archer who helps run courses and sales in Lancashire argued: "You've probably got some garden tools that are far more dangerous.

"Anything in the wrong hands is going to be a weapon and perceived as such. So where does it stop?

"To be honest, any gun crime that's committed is not committed by a licensed gun owner, so what is it going to change?"

Also in 2018, former nurse Ramanodge Unmathallegadoo, then 51, broke into his ex-wife Sana Muhammad's home in Ilford, east London, firing a crossbow into her stomach.

Ms Muhammad was eight months pregnant and died from her injuries, but her unborn baby was delivered alive by Caesarean section.

Unmathallegadoo, who was divorced from her four years earlier, was found guilty of murder and handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 33 years in 2019.

A domestic homicide review later found the Metropolitan Police missed opportunities to protect her from him before she died.

On Christmas Day 2021, Jaswant Singh Chail broke into Windsor Castle with a loaded crossbow having intended to kill the late Queen Elizabeth II.

He was stopped and later jailed for nine years in October 2023, with a further five to be spent on licence, after pleading guilty to treason, making threats to kill, and having a loaded crossbow.