Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Killer 'had his guns taken away'

Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, were shot dead by Michael Atherton
Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, were shot dead by Michael Atherton
Michael Atherton shot dead his partner and two other women at his County Durham home, and then killed himself
Police at Greenside Avenue in Peterlee, where the shootings took place

A man who shot his partner and two other women before killing himself had his guns taken from him by police three years ago amid concerns for the state of his mind.

Minicab driver Michael Atherton, 42, successfully applied to have his weapons returned after his family had raised concerns that he had threatened to shoot himself in 2008.

Late on New Year's Day police were called to his semi-detached house in Greenside Avenue, Horden, Peterlee, County Durham, and found he had killed his 47-year-old partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, before taking his own life.

As the shooting began, a teenager understood to be Mrs McGoldrick's 19-year-old daughter Laura fled through an upstairs window and raised the alarm.

Labour MP Grahame Morris said outside the police cordon: "The issue is that in 2008 police responded to a call that there was a domestic argument and Mr 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 Mr 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 added.

"If there was no grounds for applying for the revocation of a firearms licence the guns would be returned to the firearms licence holder."

Mr Morris, whose Easington constituency includes Horden, is calling for a review of firearms legislation in the light of the tragedy which has shocked the former mining village by the North Sea.

He said: "At the moment it is fairly subjective - the police are responsible for carrying out an assessment of whether an individual is a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence. My view is there should be some input from a suitably qualified health care professional. Secondly, I also wonder whether it is reasonable to keep firearms in a domestic situation."

Mr Morris said a balance between the rights of shotgun users and the safety of the public needed to be struck, adding: "Let's not forget, four people lost their lives on New Year's Day."

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