CALLS have been made for changes to gun laws after it was revealed that police took six weapons from killer cabbie Michael Atherton only to return them soon after.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright and Easington MP Grahame Morris both say laws on gun ownership need to be looked at after the massacre.
But the office of Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government had no plans to revisit UK gun laws which were ‘amongst the toughest in the world’.
It comes as a Mail poll found that 79 per cent of readers think people should be banned from keeping firearms in their homes.
Atherton gunned down his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and Mrs Turnbull’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, a 24-year-old former Hartlepool College of Further Education student.
Police had taken Mr Atherton’s guns from him in 2008 after officers responded to a domestic-related call during which the 42-year-old taxi driver had threatened to shoot himself.
Officers confiscated the firearms, but returned them after making an assessment.
Labour MP Mr Morris said: “The issue is that in 2008 police responded to a call that there was a domestic argument and Atherton had threatened to self-harm – to shoot himself.
“At the time the police took his firearms from him and he applied to have them returned.
“Police made an assessment and they were returned to him.”
Durham Police confirmed that the weapons were taken from Atherton’s house as a precaution, but as he insisted there had been no threat to harm himself, the weapons were returned.
That decision followed national procedure, a force spokesman said.
“It was one person’s word against another,” he said.
“If there was no grounds for applying for the revocation of a firearms licence the guns would be returned to the firearms licence holder.”
Details have also emerged of events in the run-up to the tragic events that saw police called to Greenside Avenue, Horden.
Detectives say Atherton and his partner had been out separately, but an argument broke out when they returned home, which led to Atherton blasting the three women before turning the gun on himself.
Susan’s body was found in the kitchen, while Alison and Tanya were found in the living room.
Atherton was discovered by the door leading from the kitchen to the living room with a shotgun laid beside him.
Post-mortem examinations confirmed that all four victims died from gunshot wounds.
Police have confirmed that the weapon used was a shotgun held legally by Atherton as part of his firearms certificate.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, of Durham Police, said: “My officers are continuing to work closely with the victims’ families to piece together the series of events that led to this tragic incident and to establish a motive.
“It appears at this stage in the investigation, that a family argument took place immediately prior to the shootings and we are determined to leave no stone unturned in our bid to find out exactly what happened on the evening of January 1.”
Geoff Angus, boss of Phillips Taxis, where Atherton worked, said: “He was a gentleman. It’s an awful thing and he was somebody you’d see on a weekly basis who was smiling.
“He was a straightforward guy.”
Mick Lloyd, manager of Atherton’s taxi rank, said this was “not someone acting out a pre-medidated state of events” as Atherton had made plans for the future, including arranging to have his rank paid on a Monday instead of a Sunday.
A shop assistant at Aldi, Peterlee, who worked with Susan McGoldrick said: “Our hearts just go out to the family at this time.”
A Facebook page has been set up in tribute to the three women killed.
In a heartbreaking message, Alison’s son Bobby Turnbull, writes: “Take your angel wings and get your selfs up to heaven with me nana Kitty, and the rest of the family!! I will never forget use 3! Sleep tite my 3 stars! XxxxxX.”
A spokeswoman for Avon, of which Tanya was a representative, said: “Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.” The coroner has been informed and inquests on the deceased will be opened in due course.
Anyone with any information regarding this incident is being asked to contact Durham Constabulary on 101 or to ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.