‘Inexcusable and unacceptable’

MICHAEL ATHERTON
MICHAEL ATHERTON
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A POLICE note was stuck to killer gunman Michael Atherton’s file recommending his firearms licence was refused.

But it has been claimed the recommendation was overruled because it was thought he would win an appeal against the decision.

Taxi driver Michael Atherton, 42, killed his 47-year-old partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, before taking his own life on New Year’s Day.

It came after Atherton had been allowed by police to keep his guns despite complaints of domestic violence and then threatening to shoot himself in 2008.

But an astonishing report into the shootings, in Greenside Avenue, Horden, is understood to have branded Durham Police’s failure to remove Atherton’s guns as “inexcusable” and “unacceptable”, while Susan McGoldrick’s daughter Laura, who escaped from the house, also hit out over the decision.

The report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on the handling of Atherton’s firearms certificate was not due to be released until the conclusion of inquests into the gunman’s death and that of his three victims.

But BBC’s Inside Out North East and Cumbria claimed last night to have seen the report, and detailed claims that police considered revoking Atherton’s licence to hold six shotguns.

The programme said the report details how a note was stuck to Atherton’s file when he applied for his licence which said: “4 domestics – last one 24/4/04 . . . . . would like to refuse – have we sufficient info – refuse re public safety”.

But the show claimed this recommendation was overruled because it was thought Atherton would win an appeal.

It said he was given a licence to keep six guns and warned it would be revoked if he behaved “irresponsibly”.

Officers removed his guns after a drunken incident in 2008 during which he threatened to “shoot his own head off”. But they were returned six weeks later.

The programme claimed the IPCC has not recommended criminal or disciplinary action, but found there was no “meaningful review” of Atherton’s licences by police after the 2008 incident and no record of why the decision was made.

Laura McGoldrick, who escaped from the house, told Inside Out: “I know I’m not Einstein or anything (but) if a man tried to commit suicide, or pretended to, why would you give a man a gun back like that with a family in the house?”

Durham constabulary’s Deputy Chief Constable Michael Banks told the programme he was aware the families of those who died had been updated by the IPCC.

He confirmed the commission had recommended that there were no criminal or misconduct cases to answer for any member of Durham Constabulary.

He said: “We continue to extend our sympathies to the families of those who died.

“We are aware that the IPCC has updated the victims’ families on the outcome of their investigation into firearms licencing decision-making in the case of Michael Atherton, and supplied them with their report.

“We’ve been informed by the IPCC that it is their recommendation that there are no criminal or misconduct cases to answer for any member of Durham Constabulary.

“The report into the investigation will not be made public until HM Coroner holds a full inquest into the deaths of Michael Atherton, Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull and Tanya Turnbull. This is not likely to be before the spring of next year.

“We feel that at this stage it is entirely appropriate that members of staff who made decisions within relevant guidance are not identified, as it is the coroner who addresses issues of anonymity.

“At the conclusion of the inquest, Durham Constabulary will respond in full to all of the issues raised in the IPCC’s report. Since the tragic events in January, we have carried out a full review of policy and procedures.

It would be wholly inappropriate to comment further on the outcome of an investigation in advance of the official publication of the findings, and the Coroner’s inquest.

We will not be making any further comment at this time.”

The IPCC said it could not comment.