Gunman Gunman Derrick compared town to Dunblane

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The Independent Online

Gunman Derrick Bird boasted "Whitehaven will be as famous as Dunblane" just weeks before he massacred 12 people, an inquest heard today.

Bird, 52, gave the chilling warning in the foyer of a swimming pool in Hensingham, near Whitehaven, where he had been diving while training with Solway Sub Aqua Club.

Peter McLean, also a member of the club, told the hearing the pair had been talking about a boat trip that taxi-driver Bird was planning when - out of the blue - he suddenly made the remark.

"He turned his back on me and said Whitehaven will be as famous as Dunblane," Mr McLean said.

Coroner David Roberts asked the witness what his reaction was.

"Infamous you mean, I said. I only know Dunblane for one thing.

"He was walking away and he turned around and said 'You will see soon enough'.

Mr Roberts asked him: "At the time, what did you make of that remark?"

Mr McLean replied: "At first I thought it was a sinister thing to say, but it is such a weird thing to say, I couldn't understand why he said it.

"I thought 'Has he been watching too many movies?'.

"When I went down to the pub after the pool, I mentioned it to a few people. Everybody thought it was such a weird thing to come out with.

"At the time it did not mean anything to me.

"I told my wife when I got home. It was such a weird thing to say, it had no relevance."

Mr McLean was giving evidence on the second day of the inquest into the deaths of all 12 victims and Bird following the massacre on June 2 last year.

The witness said he could not remember exactly when Bird made the remark but it was four to six weeks before the murders, so had to be some time in April.

Mr McLean added that he knew of Dunblane only through the massacre of children there, when crazed gunman Thomas Hamilton shot 16 youngsters and a teacher dead at a school in the Scottish town in March 1996.

Seconds before the remark, Bird had asked Mr McLean, then a long-standing member of the club, how much fuel he would need to take a boat on a diving trip to the Isle of Man.

Mr McLean said he advised Bird he would need around 100 litres, costing about £120, then he made the remark.

Mr McLean said just himself and Bird were together when the 'Dunblane' statement was made.

Bird had just come out of the changing rooms at the pool with his son Jamie, who then wandered off to make a phone call, leaving the two men speaking alone.

He added that Bird was one of the members of the club who "took an awful lot" but gave nothing back and had got drunk at a club AGM.

Earlier the inquest, at Energus in Workington, Cumbria, heard that Bird had become "paranoid" and had suicidal thoughts after becoming increasingly worried he would be jailed for tax fiddling.

He was also convinced his twin brother David and solicitor Kevin Commons, the first of the 12 victims, were "stitching him up".

Gary Kennett, a fellow member of the diving club regularly went out with a drink with Bird each Friday night.

Mr Kennett said Bird began to drink more heavily in the run up to June 2.

He said Bird would moan about some of the committee members at the club over the use of a boat, with Bird deemed not experienced enough to use it on his own.

He last saw his friend the day before the massacre when Bird pulled over in his car in Workington.

"When I looked in he had a passport and bank book on the seat," Mr Kennett said.

"He said he was going to the building society and he was buggering off to Thailand to escape what he felt was coming with the taxman, he thought prison."

Later in the day, at around 5pm, Mr Kennett again saw Bird when he handed over diving equipment, saying: "You might as well have it and get more use out of it than I will."

The witness added: "He said he was giving me this gear, he was going down and not going to use it again.

"He was getting worse. Totally irrational.

"He just said 'You have been a good friend and you won't see me again."

The next day, after murdering his brother and Mr Commons, Carol Jacques, the wife of Neil Jacques, Bird's best friend, said Bird called at his friend's home, but her husband was out.

He had come for a gun, a Winchester 12-bore shotgun, which Bird had given Mr Jacques just the night before.

Mrs Jacques said: "He just knocked on the door, opened the door and he asked for a gun and I just said 'What are you on about?'.

"He said 'Neil has got my gun, I want the gun' and I said 'Neil has it in the cabinet and I have not got the key'.

"I asked him if he wanted a cuppa and he said 'No, I'm going' and he left.

"It lasted only a matter of seconds."

Mr Roberts asked her to describe Bird's appearance.

Mrs Jacques replied: "He looked really tired. He was in a hurry, he just wanted to get away.

"He had the same clothing he had on the night before."

Bird then drove to Whitehaven where he shot fellow taxi driver Darren Rewcastle, 43, dead before travelling to Egremont, where he murdered Susan Hughes, 57, a mother of two who was carrying her shopping to her home in Egremont.

He then pulled up alongside Kenneth Fishburn, 71, whom he shot at close range with the shotgun. Mr Fishburn was killed instantly.

He went on to kill Isaac Dixon, 65, Jennifer Jackson, 68, and her husband James, 67, in the village of Wilton, local farmer and amateur rugby league player Garry Purdham, 31, near Gosforth, estate agent Jamie Clark, 23, the youngest victim, outside Seascale, and Mike Pike, 64, and Jamie Robinson, 66, in the town.

The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow.