Gun massacre victim stayed with partner ‘out of love’

Michael Atherton and Susan McGoldrick
Michael Atherton and Susan McGoldrick

A FRIEND of gun massacre victim Susan McGoldrick today revealed how the tragic mum had repeatedly left her “violent” partner – but went back to him because “she loved hime”.

The friend made the claims as reports emerged that police were called to the family home to investigate domestic violence incidents.

Yesterday, Susan’s daughter, Laura, 19, who escaped the bloodbath, returned to the gruesome scene to lay flowers for her mum.

As a community tried to return to normal and as police tried to put together a picture of what led to the killings, it was revealed that Susan had confided in a pal about her volatile 19-year relationship.

She claimed the 47-year-old had repeatedly left Michael Atherton, 42, after rows – but would go back home for the sake of her children and because she loved him.

The friend, who did not want to be named, said: “Susan would confide in me about her relationship and there were numerous times when she told me she had left Michael.

“She said he was a violent man, but never spoke of any details of violence towards her. She would often be upset and would cry or would have been crying before we spoke.

“The next time we would speak she would say she had gone back and it was all all right and then they would split up again. It seemed to be how things went.

“I asked her why she kept going back. She would say I know I shouldn’t and that she should end it altogether but she would say she stayed for the kids and ‘I love him’.

“The last time I was aware they had split again was in November. She had been crying and she said she had left him and she said it was for good.”

The pair knew each other through Susan’s work at Aldi supermarket in Peterlee and had been friends for six years.

Her friend revealed she last spoke to Susan on Christmas Eve when she visited the store.

She said: “She seemed happy. I asked her if things were ok and she said they were. I wished her a Happy Christmas and she said she would see me in the new year.”

But it was to be the last time she saw her friend after she was gunned down, along with Susan’s sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, before crazed cabbie Atherton turned the gun on himself.

Police say Atherton had been out drinking on New Year’s Day and had returned home at 10.30pm, shortly before his victims.

A minor argument broke out before Atherton left the house and is believed to have taken a gun from his car, before he returned to massacre the three women.

Atherton’s stepdaughter Laura McGoldrick, 19 and her boyfriend escaped the carnage through the upstairs window, while Atherton’s son, Michael jnr, 17, fled through the front door.

Her friend added: “The next thing, I got the news and I was just gobsmacked. It was then all the things she had confided in me came flooding back.

“I keep thinking could I, should I have done something. But what could I do. But I can’t help thinking if she had left him for good this would never have happened. But all you can do is to try to support people in that situation. They have to make those decisions.”

Another friend, who worked near Susan in Peterlee town centre, described the incident as “tragic” and described her pal as “easy going and friendly”.

She said: “Sue was a lovely woman, she always had time for people and was really chatty.”

An inquest was yesterday opened and adjourned into the deaths at Chester-le-Street Magistrates’ Court, but police would not comment on any possible incidents of domestic violence or details of the couple’s relationship.

A spokesman for Durham Police said: “As the case has been passed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), we are unable to discuss any potential lines which could come up from that inquiry.”

A spokeswoman for the IPCC added: “Because there is an investigation under way, we cannot comment on the situation.

“All aspects of the case will be looked at during the course of the investigation, and the findings will be released in due course.”