Gun massacre report criticises police

A POLICE force has been criticised after a gunman who shot dead three women had been permitted to keep firearms by police despite complaints of domestic violence and threatening to shoot himself.

A report into the Horden shootings by killer Michael Atherton is believed to have branded Durham Police’s failure to remove Atherton’s guns as “inexcusable” and “unacceptable”.

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 says it has seen the report, details of which are due to be revealed when the programme is aired tonight.

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 Years Day.

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

But is has been claimed this recommendation was overruled because it was thought Atherton would win an appeal.

He was given a licence to keep six guns and warned it would be revoked if he behaved irresponsibly.

The programme is expected to claim 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 is expected to confirm the commission had recommended that there were no criminal or misconduct cases to answer for any member of Durham Constabulary.

The IPCC said it could not comment.

Inside Out North East & Cumbria is on BBC One tonight at 7.30pm.