POLICE had at least three chances to potentially prevent the gun massacre in which cabbie Michael Atherton shot dead three women and himself on New Year’s Day, an investigation claims.
It says Durham Police had three opportunities in six years to refuse Atherton (right) licences for his deadly firearms.
Inside Out, screened on BBC 1 last night, claimed police recommended Atherton be refused a shotgun licence when he first applied in 2006.
But that decision was allegedly overturned by senior staff.
That was after police had been called four times to Atherton’s home in Horden to answer domestic incidents.
They included a breach of the peace in 2002 and a police caution for a drunken assault on his partner in 2004. Simon Clarke, from the British Association, for Shooting and Conservation, told the programme: “This could have been the first opportunity to stop this.”
Atherton’s partner, Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece, Tanya Turnbull, 24, were after what started as a minor row on New Year’s Day.
Susan’s daughter, Laura McGoldrick, 19, escaped with her life through an upstairs window.
Floral tributes continue to gather outside house in Greenside Avenue, while pictures of the victims have been put up in the windows.
Another chances to review Atherton’s licence came in 2008 when he applied for a Section 1 firearms certificate to keep more tightly restricted firearms like semi-automatic shotguns.
Within months, Atherton’s weapons were seized after he threatened to harm himself but returned weeks later.
An investigation is being carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Durham Police refused to comment on the programme.
But 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.
“The investigation is in the early stages and speculation does not assist. It is especially hurtful for the families of those who died.
“A number of questions about the regulation of firearms licences have again been raised.
“The IPCC has conducted a number of previous investigations into firearms licensing issues with learning resulting and 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.”