Gun police training questioned at Horden massacre inquest

Alison Turnbull with son Bobby
Alison Turnbull with son Bobby
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AN inquest into the deaths of a cabbie who shot himself and three members of his family has heard there was no formal training for police officers involved in granting firearms licences.

Michael Atherton, 42, shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, before taking his own life on New Year’s Day 2012 at his home in Horden, Peterlee.

The inquest also heard that one investigating officer at Durham Constabulary had never seen guidance by the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) on the issuing of gun certificates.

Atherton legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns, despite him having a history of domestic abuse.

Officers from Durham Police who gave evidence at Coroner’s Office, Crook, County Durham, said there was no formal policy written down regarding firearms for them to use.

This led coroner Andrew Tweddle to describe the force’s procedures as “more of an ad hoc arrangement”.

The inquest heard that a note had been attached to the file in 2006 which said: “Four domestics, last one 24/4/04, was cautioned for assault. Still resides with partner and son and daughter. Would like to refuse, have we sufficient info to refuse re public safety.”

But Atherton was still granted a shotgun certificate then and a firearms licence two years later.

Witness B, who cannot be named, said: “There was no formal training, I’m not aware of any formal training in firearm departments. Ninety percent of application forms were straightforward.”

Evidence was also given by pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper who said Atherton had about one and half times the alcohol driving limit in his blood at the time, which was the equivalent to a few drinks.