What are the laws on crossbows in the UK?

Crossbow are legal to buy in the UK (Picture: Getty)

A manhunt is underway for 26-year-old Kyle Clifford after three women were found dead this morning at a house in Bushey, near Watford.

Clifford, who is currently on the run, is suspected of triple murder and police have warned he may be ‘in possession of a crossbow’ and considered to be armed and dangerous.

A former top Met detective has said the police are ‘more than likely’ suggesting a crossbow was the weapon involved in the killings, leading to questions about the legality of such weapons and how the suspect was able to obtain one.

Yet despite the danger posed by such weapons, crossbows have a complex legal status in the UK, falling into a grey area somewhere between both archery and firearm laws.

Kyle Clifford is on the run from police and believed to be in possession of a crossbow (Picture: Hertfordshire Police / SWNS)

What is the legal status of crossbows in the UK?

Under the Crossbows Act 1987, it is legal to purchase a crossbow in the United Kingdom and no licence is required to own one, although possession is prohibited for those under 18 except under adult supervision.

However, it is illegal to carry one in public without a ‘reasonable excuse’, with offenders potentially facing up to four years behind bars.

It is considered unlawful to hunt live quarry with either a crossbow or a bow and arrow under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

In Scotland, section 50 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 also makes it illegal to be drunk in a public place in possession of a crossbow.

Crossbows are illegal to carry in public without a ‘reasonable excuse’ (Picture: REX/Shutterstock)

Will the law be changed?

Following a series of high-profile cases, the previous government had considered tightening the laws around crossbows after would-be assassin Jaswant Singh Chail was encouraged by an AI chatbot to break into Windsor Castle on Christmas Day 2021 with a loaded crossbow to kill the late Queen Elizabeth.

Former home secretary Priti Patel ordered the review of crossbow rules in order to ‘step up action to prevent violence on our streets’, and floated the idea of introducing a licence system and police checks for those attempting to buy the weapons, just like when someone buys a gun.

Following Chail’s sentencing, former Safeguarding Minister Laura Farris said: ‘Crossbows are used rarely in violent crime in this country but they can be highly dangerous.

‘We’re doing all we can to ensure we have the appropriate measures in place against any risks these potentially dangerous weapons may pose.

‘I encourage the public and those in the industry to come forward to share their views so we can have the most accurate picture and take any necessary action to keep our streets safe.’

There have been calls to change the laws following a series of high-profile crimes invlving crossbows (Picture: iStockphoto)

What other criminal cases have involved crossbows?

The manhunt for Clifford comes following a series of high-profile crimes in recent years which have prompted debate over the legality of crossbows.

In 2021, 20-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail was detained under the Mental health Act and later jailed for nine years after attempting to assassinate the late Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

Chail was spotted carrying a loaded ‘Supersonic X-Bow’ with the safety catch off with a line of sight to her apartments, where she was at the time.

When apprehended, he told an approaching guard ‘I am here to kill the Queen.’

During his trial, it was revealed Chail was heavily influenced by Star Wars and referred to himself as ‘Darth Jones’, and confided his plot to murder the monarch and ‘destroy the Empire’ in chats to his Artificial Intelligence girlfriend ‘Sarai’.

He later pleaded guilty to an offence under the Treason Act, making a threat to kill the then Queen and having a loaded crossbow in a public place. 

In another horrific act of violence, deranged stalker Anthony Lawrence shot his pregnant neighbour with a crossbow and murdered her partner after constructing a secret passage into their house.

Pregnant Laura Sugden had arrived home from a date night with Shane Gilmer when Lawrence emerged from her daughter’s room.

Armed with a crossbow, he shot her through the neck. Shane ran to her rescue but was also shot in the stomach.

The emergency services got to the dad-to-be and rushed him to Hull Royal Infirmary, but he could not be saved and died from his injuries.

Lawrence later took his own life and his body was found in a campervan in North Yorkshire.

Following an inquest into his death, Laura said: ‘Shane was murdered in the most cruel and terrifying way imaginable. It is unbelievable that the sale and ownership of such a lethal, medieval weapon remains unregulated in our modern society.

‘There are no laws in place to help prevent crossbows from falling into the hands of twisted and dangerous individuals like Anthony Lawrence.

‘This lethal weapon has been forgotten about in the Government’s strategy on tackling gun and knife crime.’

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