Firearms controls questioned

Michael Atherton
Michael Atherton

CONCERNED MPs say the New Year’s Day gun massacre that rocked a community has raised questions over mental health issues and the control of firearms.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright and Easington MP Grahame Morris (pictured) say the brutal shotgun shootings in a house in Horden should start a debate on the subject.

Easington MP Grahame Morris

Easington MP Grahame Morris

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’.

Gunman Michael Atherton is said to have been suffering with depression and police had spoken to his family back in 2008 because he threatened to hurt himself.

But the 42-year-old cabbie was still allowed to have licences for six weapons, including three shotguns and three “Class One” firearms, which carry stricter controls.

While Mr Wright warned against a “knee-jerk” reaction, he said “many questions” need answering following the tragedy and gun control must be looked at.

He told the Mail: “My first reaction was one of horror that something like this can happen on the doorstep of Hartlepool.

“I think there are questions to be asked about tighter controls with people who have been suffering with depression. The early signs indicate that Michael Atherton had that. It is something that very much concerns public safety so must be revisited.

“I think there is always going to be a broad correlation between mental health issues, the economy and rising stress levels. People find it harder to make ends meet, they lose their jobs and stress levels inevitably rise.

“There is also an issue in this country in that we don’t talk about mental health issues and we only see these things and talk about them when flash points occur. This shows they can have a profound effect on people’s lives.

“What has happened is truly tragic.”

Mr Morris went to school just a mile from where the killings took place and his mum’s sister ran the Royal British Legion club just around the corner.

He has been talking to people on the streets of Horden since finding out about the massacre.

Speaking at the police cordon in Greenside Avenue, he said: “I don’t think it’s the number of firearms that Mr Atherton held that is the issue. The general issues are more to do with whether it is right that people should store firearms in a domestic setting.

“Secondly, how the terms of a licence should be tightened up in terms of mental health and the state of someone’s mental wellbeing.

“It’s very difficult for anyone to make a judgement, depression is such an unpredictable illness. There are various pressures and things can change so fast in someone’s life.

“Sadly we live in a time when there are more pressures than ever before.

“My own personal view is people must have overall mental health wellbeing and more regular checks should take place regarding suitability.

“I accept there are thousands of people in this area who enjoy shooting as a legitimate pursuit, but it must be balanced against public safety.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are trying to balance the need to protect public safety with the need to make sure those controls are practical and work.

“On this specific case we need to wait for the investigation to conclude.”

Ministers were looking at guidance and the way gun laws were implemented following a critical report by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

That chimed with the concerns of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), which warned against ‘any knee-jerk reaction’ to the tragedy.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, said there is a need to tighten up UK gun laws.