Gun licensing probe details are revealed

TURNED GUN ON HIMSELF: Michael Atherton

TURNED GUN ON HIMSELF: Michael Atherton

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POLICE watchdogs have revealed details of their investigation into firearm licensing issues after the Horden massacre.

Michael Atherton blasted his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, on New Year’s Day after a “minor” family row.

Taxi driver Atherton, 42, then blasted himself with his legally-owned shotgun at the couple’s semi-detached home in Greenside Avenue, Horden.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating firearm licensing issues following the shootings, has now revealed the terms of reference for its investigation.

The IPCC investigation is looking at all aspects of firearms licensing matters focusing on the circumstances surrounding the granting of shotgun and firearms licences to Atherton following his initial applications in 2007 and 2008.

It is also looking at any subsequent reviews of Atherton’s licences by Durham Constabulary and examining information available to Durham Constabulary – with particular regard to Atherton’s background, including previous reports of domestic incidents.

The investigation will also probe the decision to return shotguns and firearms to Atherton following their temporary removal in 2008.

IPCC Commissioner Nicholas Long said: “Horden is a very close-knit community and I know the events on Sunday, January 1, shocked everyone there as well as the rest of the country.

“I appreciate what a difficult time this is for families and friends.

“It is my duty to ensure our independent investigation looks at all aspects of the granting of Mr Atherton’s firearms licences in 2007 and 2008.

“Further, we need to be confident sufficient checks were carried out by police after Mr Atherton’s weapons were removed and subsequently returned to him following a disturbance at his home address in September 2008.”

Mr Long added that a number of questions about the regulation of firearms licences had again been raised.

He added: “In addition to providing independent scrutiny into this incident I will be seeking to make further recommendations, if appropriate, for consideration when police in future deal with firearms licensing applications.”

A spokesman confirmed the IPCC is not investigating the police response to the incident on New Year’s Day.

The terms of reference were agreed earlier this month, but publication was delayed to allow investigators to personally inform family members.

Atherton’s stepdaughter Laura McGoldrick, 19, who was injured when she was hit by pellets as the gunman aimed at her mother, managed to escape from an upstairs window with her boyfriend.

Susan and Atherton’s son, Michael Jnr, 17, escaped through the front door.