Three police officers saw Derrick Bird in the middle of his murderous rampage but did not “have an opportunity to end the killings sooner”, the Cumbria force conceded yesterday.
Chief Constable Stuart Hyde acknowledged that three unarmed police constables had spotted the killer after he opened fire in Whitehaven last Wednesday but were unable to stop him before he went on to murder nine more people. The constables, the senior officer said, gave chase but one turned away to assist the injured while two others lost him after he pulled a gun on them.
The force has already come under criticism for failing to act swiftly enough. Bird — armed with a shotgun and .22 rifle — killed his first victim, his twin brother David, in the early hours before shooting the family solicitor Kevin Commons at 10.20am and a fellow taxi driver Darren Rewcastle a few minutes later.
He went on to murder nine more people — Kenneth Fishburn (71); Susan Hughes (57); James Jackson (67) and his wife Jennifer Jackson (68); Isaac Dixon (65); Michael Pike (64); Jane Robinson (66), Jamie Clark (23) and Garry Purdham (31) — in just under an hour before taking his own life at 1.30pm.
Last week Craig Mackey, Chief Constable of Cumbria, insisted there had been no opportunity to stop Bird during his murderous rampage, but refused to say whether any officers had come close to stopping the gunman.
Yesterday it emerged that a neighbourhood officer heard shots at around 10.30am in Whitehaven and ran out of the town's police station to see Bird pointing a gun out of his taxi. Having alerted colleagues he grabbed a car and gave chase.
As he did, he saw Bird slow down and fire into a passing taxi, injuring the driver and a passenger, and stopped to give first aid. Two other officers in a police van continued the chase but lost him when Bird pulled into a driveway and pointed a gun at them.
The force said in a statement: “They were forced to protect themselves after it became clear they could not reverse due to the traffic that had built up behind them. We believe he (Bird) then drove off at speed. Despite having just witnessed a shooting and having a gun pointed at them, the officers attempted to follow him, and, despite asking passers-by where he had driven, were unable to locate him again.
“While they had no opportunity to bring an end to Bird's rampage they provided valuable information regarding his whereabouts and likely route. They also provided immediate assistance to those shot and injured in the area,” it continued.
Families of the victims will now be able to make funeral arrangements after their bodies were released following the opening and adjournment of the inquests yesterday.