Cumbria tries to begin the healing process

Church leaders, the Queen, police and ministers all focus on the aftermath of Derrick Bird's rampage
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The Independent Online

Communities in West Cumbria gather today for church and memorial services as those touched by Wednesday's tragedy begin to deal with their grief.

Church leaders have asked for all churches in the areas affected by Derrick Bird's 45-mile rampage, which left 12 people dead, to be open to allow people the opportunity to pray, talk to someone and light candles.

An open-air service at St Nicholas Church Garden in Whitehaven is being held at 6pm tonight. A message from the Queen to the people of west Cumbria will be read out. She has already sent a message through the Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria, James Cropper.

An outdoor service for the communities of Seascale and Gosforth is also taking place at 2.30pm at the Green at Seascale. The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said: "Working through grief and the sense of loss is going to take a long time."

A minute's silence is planned for Whitehaven on Wednesday at noon, a week after the drama unfolded.

As people come to terms with the shootings, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, is considering merging parts of neighbouring police forces to speed up response times to serious incidents such as the Cumbria killings.

Cumbria Police, one of the smallest forces but covering one of the most rural regions in the country, could share "protective services" such as helicopters and riot, Special Branch and firearms units with next-door Lancashire.

The Chief Constable of Cumbria, Craig Mackey, has defended his force's response to Wednesday's events, insisting that officers would have killed Bird if they had had the chance.

But residents have complained that, even though Bird used winding country roads to evade capture, the police could have saved lives by blocking off routes more quickly. Officers were first alerted to a shooting in Whitehaven at 10.20am but it was not until around 1pm that Bird killed himself, after murdering 12 others.

A report last year by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said Cumbria Police were "falling short of the required standard" in their response to emergency calls.

Cumbria does not have a helicopter of its own but, as events unfolded on Wednesday, one was scrambled from Lancashire. Ben Wallace, a Lancashire Conservative MP and security expert, said merging protective services could speed up response times.

Under the last government, the then home secretary Charles Clarke proposed merging some of England and Wales's 43 police forces but there was fierce opposition. Cumbria and Lancashire volunteered to merge, but in 2006 the plan was dropped amid a row over the Government's willingness to fund the move. That year the entire scheme was dropped by Mr Clarke's successor, John Reid.

Police remain uncertain as to Bird's motives and yesterday said they had not found a suicide note or hit list in a search of the 52-year-old's home. But officers have seized letters, documents and a computer, and confirmed that there was an ongoing investigation by HM Revenue & Customs into the killer's finances.

The senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Iain Goulding, said that detectives were "working to verify suggestions that Bird was involved in personal disputes with fellow taxi drivers, or others".

A prayer vigil was held at Egremont parish church on Friday night, where the Rev Richard Lee, rector of St Mary's and St Michael's Church, also conducted a memorial service.

He said: "I think what any community feels when an act of such gross violence is perpetrated upon perfectly ordinary people, doing what they do every day, has to be shock, has to be revulsion."

He also hinted at one of the psychological traumas common after such tragedies – survivors' guilt, or "Why not me?", as he put it.

Books of condolence have been opened in Gosforth church and Copeland council offices in Whitehaven.

Leaflets from NHS Cumbria on coping with grief will be available in churches in the affected areas soon, and a counselling service was being run at West Cumbria Hospital in Whitehaven all weekend. The British Red Cross and the Samaritans, which has extra counsellors on duty at its offices in Church Street, Whitehaven, were also offering support.

Mr Mackey said: "This has been the most tragic and complex incident I have experienced in my 25 years as a police officer. We do not underestimate the effect this will have on us all."