Cumbria gunman's Dunblane boast

Derrick Bird threatened to make his hometown of Whitehaven as "famous as Dunblane" several weeks before embarking on his murderous rampage.

He made the chilling link – between the scene of the future massacre and the Scottish town where 16 schoolchildren and their teacher were killed by gunman Thomas Hamilton in 1996 – apparently out of the blue, during a routine inquiry into hiring a diving boat. The second day of the inquest into the deaths of Bird and his 12 victims heard that the 52-year-old taxi driver had talked about suicide hours before his killing spree last June.

His mental deterioration was triggered, witnesses claimed, when he received a letter from HM Revenue and Customs over unpaid tax the previous month.

But while close friends observed his paranoia, heavy drinking and threats to "top himself", Peter McLean, a Solway Sub Aqua Club official, said his remarks about Dunblane – aired in public – had struck him as particularly sinister. He said Bird had been enquiring after a pool-training session about how much it would cost to take the club boat for a diving trip off the Isle of Man.

Bird then said: "Whitehaven will be as famous as Dunblane." When asked to explain he said: "You'll see soon enough."

Mr McLean said he was startled and replied: "Infamous you mean... I only know Dunblane for one thing."

On the day before the massacre Bird had been carrying his passport in his car and claimed he was planning to withdraw money and "bugger off to Thailand".

The inquest continues.