Horden gun massacre cited in report which tells cops to improve firearms control

Tributes left outside the house in Greenside Avenue, Horden, where Michael Atherton killed his partner, her sister and her niece on New Year's Day in 2012.
Tributes left outside the house in Greenside Avenue, Horden, where Michael Atherton killed his partner, her sister and her niece on New Year's Day in 2012.
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Police have been told to make a host of improvements to how they handle applications for firearms licences.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) sent a team to carry out a review of Durham Constabulary’s work and 10 other forces to monitor their efficiency and effectiveness.

Michael Atherton.

Michael Atherton.

Now a report has made 18 recommendations after scrutinising rules and procedures and interviewing officers and staff.

The case of Michael Atherton, 42, who used a licensed firearm to shoot dead his partner, her sister and her niece before killing himself in Horden on New Year’s Day in 2012 is a case study in the report, as is the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) investigation into what happened.

County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle criticised the force after concluding taxi driver Atherton and his victims, Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, would not have died if there had been “robust, clear and accountable procedures in place which allowed the constabulary to analyse and consider all relevant information in its possession”.

The report states: “We cannot make our position any clearer: it is now for others to accept the need for change.

We are confident these improvements ensure public safety remains top of our agenda, and underpins everything we do.

Temporary Chief Inspector Neal Bickford

“If they do, perhaps the life of the next victim of firearms misuse might be saved.

“What is highly likely is that, if change is not effected, there will be another tragedy.”

Among the concerns listed about the force were that it does not have formal monitoring and arrangements; did not have a structured plan for long-term resourcing; only contacted referees on the basis of risk; and restricted the times calls could be made to staff.

However, it highlighted it carried out home visits automatically and instigated a review of existing holders.

Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece, Tanya Turnbull, 24, who were shot at the house of Michael Atherton in Horden.

Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece, Tanya Turnbull, 24, who were shot at the house of Michael Atherton in Horden.

It also introduced a process where every incident relating to a name or address of a firearm certificate holder was flagged up.

Temporary Chief Inspector Neal Bickford, head of firearms licensing at Durham Constabulary, said it has “robust monitoring in place” and had plans in place to deal with demand.

He added: “The inspection took place in 2014, and we note the positive comments surrounding the force’s 24/7 monitoring of every incident involving a certificate holder, or their address.

“Since the tragedy at Horden in January 2012 a comprehensive review in relation to Durham’s procedures was carried out and a number of recommendations were adopted.”