TRIPLE killer Michael Atherton’s deep-rooted hatred for his partner’s sister caused a huge argument minutes before the massacre, an inquest heard.
Just 30 minutes before his shooting spree, Atherton, 42, texted his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, offering to stay out for the night rather than risk confrontation as she was out with her sister.
But the 42-year-old shot his partner, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, before he killed himself in Greenside Avenue, Horden, on New Year’s Day 2012.
The inquest into the deaths heard Atherton, who had arrests for domestic violence dating back 10 years, had a deep-rooted dislike for Alison Turnbull, after he blamed her for his arrest following a family row at his home in 2008.
The sisters and other family members had been out to a rugby club without Atherton, and he grew angry when his son Mick told him they were out together.
He told his son there would be “trouble” if Mrs Turnbull turned up at his house with the others.
Rather than face a confrontation with Ms Turnbull, he offered to stay the night at a local hotel.
Minutes after 11pm, Atherton texted his partner: “Our Mick says you are with your Ali. Going to stop at the Lodge. Aint spending a night in the cells. See you tomorrow.”
But Mrs McGoldrick’s party arrived home in a taxi about 11.30pm, before Atherton left, and his partner accused him of assaulting her earlier that night.
A row broke out and when Atherton went out of the back door, those present believed he was leaving for the night.
But he returned with one of his shotguns that he had prepared for an early shoot with friends the next morning, and started blasting.
He hit his partner from a distance of 1 metre in the kitchen, the inquest heard, with spray also hitting Laura.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, who led the investigation, said she was “very lucky” to survive the blast and ran upstairs to her bedroom where her boyfriend was staying.
Atherton then shot Tanya Turnbull twice causing fatal injuries.
There was no evidence of any previous animosity between the two, Mr Goundry said.
His last victim was Alison Turnbull, who was returning from the toilet, and appeared to have tried to avoid the blast by ducking.
The women’s friend Susan Ferguson was sat on a settee as the horror unfolded, and was spared, despite him looking at her.
At some point Atherton reloaded the weapon, which could take three cartridges, and shot himself in the head, Mr Goundry said.
Before that, he had “exchanged some words” with his son, Mr Goundry said, and he fled through the front door.
Alison’s partner David Rowe and her niece Lauren Hardman avoided the massacre by not getting a taxi home with the women, and instead walking back from the rugby club.
They arrived home at about the same time as armed police.
Mr Goundry said: “It must have been absolutely heart-breaking for David and Lauren.
“They arrived at the house and witnessed the sight that had unfolded in front of them.
“I have been there myself and it is not something I would wish upon anyone.”
The hearing also saw survivor Laura McGoldrick break down in tears as the weapon used to kill her mother and other family members was demonstrated in court by a firearms expert.
Firearms expert Pc Mark Outhwaite opened a cardboard evidence box and produced the camouflaged shotgun - one of six weapons legally owned by Atherton, which was used to such devastating effect.
As he showed the coroner Andrew Tweddle how it could be reloaded within moments, and with loud clicks ringing out in the hearing, Laura, who fled to safety by climbing through the bathroom window that night, wept and was comforted by her family.
Two others left the hearing in Crook Civic Centre as the brief demonstration went on.
The inquest will conclude on Friday after hearing evidence from Durham’s Chief Constable.