AN independent inquiry has now been launched to fully examine the events that saw Atherton’s guns confiscated in 2008 after he said he was going to shoot himself, just for them to be returned within weeks.
Three years later Atherton slaughtered his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and her niece Tanya Turnbull.
The shotgun murders have raised concerns about firearms legislation after it emerged the killer had his guns taken from him by police three years ago following concerns about his mental health.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright and Easington MP Grahame Morris say the brutal shotgun shootings in a house in Horden should start a debate on the subject.
But the office of Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government had no plans to revisit UK gun laws which were “among the toughest in the world”.
Police were called out to his home on September 10, 2008, amid concerns that he said he would harm himself.
The weapons were removed, but he applied to get them back and they were returned to him on November 18 that year.
Durham Police confirmed that the weapons were taken from Mr Atherton’s house as a precaution, but as he insisted there had been no threat to harm himself, they were returned.
That decision followed national procedure, a force spokesman said.
Durham Police have referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and are still investigating the background to the killings.
IPCC commissioner Nicholas Long said: “At this tragic time, our thoughts and sympathies are with the families and friends of those who died in Horden on Sunday evening.
“We have launched an independent investigation and are committed to fully examining the issues around the granting of Mr Atherton’s firearms licence and subsequent renewals.
“I have determined that an independent investigation should be undertaken examining police involvement in the grant of a firearms licence to Mr Atherton.
“My condolences go out to the families of those who died, their friends and the wider community of Horden.”