UK police and firearms: how to write gripping and credible drama

The police shoot-out is a popular climactic moment in crime fiction. It’s also where many stories lose credibility. How do you write a gripping novel or drama, while staying accurate? Police advisor Graham Bartlett offers his golden rules from our Crime Writing: Police Use of Firearms workshop.

Graham Bartlett
Graham Bartlett

Be honest, who doesn’t love a humongous shoot-out as goodie gets baddie at the end of a gripping novel or TV drama? It seems a worthy payoff after 350 pages (or five-and-a-half hours) of cat and mouse where, in true story style, there were points when you thought all was lost.

I’m not suggesting we put the guns back in the armoury and watch our adversaries battle it out on the croquet lawn. Far from it, it’s just this is usually the point when credibility explodes in the readers’ or viewers’ faces.

And it really needn’t.

The simple, and sometimes inconvenient, fact is that the UK has a mainly unarmed police service.

This means that some pretty steep criteria have to be met before cops from England, Wales and Scotland can get their hands on a gun. And even then, that privilege is only afforded to full-time specialists and I’m afraid your world-weary detective, who we have been cheering on throughout, isn’t one of them.

That doesn’t mean armed operations have to be off the page though, it just means your protagonist might be at arm’s length from the action. But that can be just as tense.

Achieving good drama and accuracy

Imagine sitting in a nearby car (not too near, mind) sweating profusely while listening to the ‘big guns’ clip their commands and updates across the Airwave radio. Then silence. Long, stretched out, interminable silence.

Then a volley of gunfire, shouts of ‘shots fired, officer down,’ followed by multiple explosions. How is your main character feeling now? Powerless? Guilty that a fellow officer might have been killed on their operation? Has the case gone up in smoke?

When writing a crime novel or series, you really can ramp up the drama, while showing readers and viewers you know how things work in the UK.

Learn more

In conjunction with Professional Writing Academy, I’ve developed a UK Police Use of Firearms online workshop for crime writers.

With Bruce Mathews, a veteran Tactical Firearms Commander and now course leader delivering national firearms command training, we’ll take you through all you need to know, including:

  • Who decides when an armed raid is justified
  • Who carries out those raids
  • What weapons they use and how powerful are they
  • What they look, feel, even smell like
  • How specialist firearms officers are dressed
  • How they deal with an armed suspect
  • When can UK police fire their weapons
  • What happens next

Join us and be among the few authors who can confidently weave credible firearms scenes into your stories, safe in the knowledge you’ve got as close as is safe to the real thing.


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Meet your Course Director

Graham Bartlett

Graham Bartlett

Graham Bartlett is a bestselling crime writer and police-procedure guru.

He is author of the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller Bad for Good (‘a cracking debut’, Mark Billingham) and its follow-ups Force of Hate and City on Fire.

For thirty years, Graham was a police officer, policing the city of Brighton and Hove, and rising to become its police commander. On the way he was a homicide senior investigating officer and led on managing dangerous offenders, sexual offences, domestic violence, child protection and hate crime. He was a qualified strategic firearms and public order commander, leading the policing of many armed operations, large scale protests and sporting events.

He went on to become a police procedural and crime advisor, helping scores of authors and TV writers (including Peter James, Anthony Horowitz, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths and Dorothy Koomson) achieve authenticity alongside their drama. He has worked on numerous TV dramas and receives wide praise for his approach to blending procedural accuracy with story and character needs. 

Graham also has two bestselling non-fiction books – Death Comes Knocking and Babes in the Wood – to his name.

More about Graham Bartlett

Crime Writing: Police Use of Firearms

Get as close as is safe to the real thing and improve your stories.

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