Police chief says sorry over family shootings
A CHIEF CONSTABLE has apologised to the families of a taxi driver who shot three relatives dead then killed himself, as a coroner said the tragedy could have been avoided.
Shortcomings in Durham Police's Firearms Licensing Unit, including a focus on administration rather than investigating applicants, have been highlighted during an inquest into the deaths of Michael Atherton, 42, his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison's daughter Tanya, 24.
Atherton blasted the women in the back following a row at his home in Horden, near Peterlee, on New Year's Day 2012, then shot himself in the head.
The weapon, a Hatson Escort Magnum semi-automatic shotgun, was one of six he was entitled to own despite a history of drunken domestic violence, and threatening to "blow his head off" in 2008.
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On that occasion police removed his weapons but returned them a few weeks later with a warning to behave responsibly in future.
Speaking at the inquest in Crook, Chief Constable Michael Barton said: "I apologise on behalf of the organisation that your family and friends have been put through what nobody would want to go through."
Coroner Andrew Tweddle reached verdicts that the women were unlawfully killed and Atherton, a keen shooter, took his own life.