A taxi driver who murdered his partner, her sister and her sister's daughter before shooting himself at the family home on New Year's Day held licences for six weapons and was known to police from three years earlier after threatening to harm himself.
His 19-year-old stepdaughter leapt to safety from an upstairs window at the house in Horden, near Peterlee, Co Durham, after the man – named as Michael Atherton – opened fire shortly before midnight.
Police confirmed they had been in touch with the 42-year-old gun enthusiast in 2008 after being contacted by a relative concerned about his welfare. It is understood that he had talked of shooting himself but the permits which allowed him to hold shotguns as well as three other more powerful "category one" weapons were not revoked.
Durham Constabulary said it would be referring the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The force could not say whether the person who had been in touch with them was among the victims of the rampage which lasted a few seconds before Mr Atherton turned the gun on himself.
Neighbours in Greenside Avenue, a quiet cul-de-sac in Horden, a former mining community, described how survivors ran from the house screaming. A witness said one man emerged covered in blood, shouting: "He has shot her in the head. My girlfriend is dead. Save her, save her."
The dead women were named by police as Susan McGoldrick, 45, Mr Atherton's partner of many years; Alison Turnbull, her 44-year-old sister, and 24-year-old Tanya Turnbull, her niece. Laura McGoldrick, Michael Atherton's step-daughter, was treated in hospital for what appeared to be minor shotgun wounds. She was later questioned by detectives. A man who was at the scene was arrested but later released.
Police said some of the victims had been drinking earlier and returned home shortly before the shooting began. Mr Atherton had been at the Horden Victory Club. He was described as acting "completely normally".
Assistant Chief Constable Michael Banks confirmed that police had "minor contact" with the family in 2008. "We are busy reviewing the exact circumstances around that. There was a report of a male at that address self-harming. That was some years ago," Mr Banks said. "Nothing came from that."