Paranoid fear of taxman drove Cumbria killer's shooting spree

Derrick Bird's 'grudges' and 'unsettled mind' are focus on first day of inquest into deaths
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The Independent Online

Derrick Bird feared that his brother and solicitor were conspiring to have him sent to prison over unpaid tax – prompting his murderous shooting spree through Cumbria last summer in which he killed 12 people and injured 11 more before turning the gun on himself, a court heard yesterday.

Before Bird embarked on the rampage – the worst in Britain since Thomas Hamilton massacred 16 children and an adult at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland in 1996 – the 52-year-old taxi driver promised his accountant: "You will never see me again".

Yesterday, at the start of a four-week inquest into the 13 deaths, Bird was described as irrational and the court heard that his fears of jail and imminent financial ruin were unfounded.

Laying out details of the 13-hour rampage publicly for the first time, Detective Chief Superintendent Iain Goulding, of Cumbria police, described how despite his "secure" financial position, Bird had become obsessed with his unresolved tax affairs.

Mr Goulding told the 11-member jury the taxi driver had enlisted his twin brother, David, his solicitor, Kevin Commons, and an accountant to help resolve his money worries. He had rung his twin 44 times in one day shortly before the murders and was spotted the next day deep in a "serious" conversation with his sibling, who was to become his first victim on 2 June – the day he believed he was going to be arrested immediately after a meeting with his solicitor.

According to Bird's son, Graeme, his father's state of mind had suddenly deteriorated. "He was unsettled and would get out of the chair and have a walk about. Then he sat on the sofa and he just had his head in his hands. He thought he was being set up and he was going to attend this meeting and be arrested," he told the inquest.

Using CCTV footage, photographs and sophisticated graphics detailing the victims' wounds, Mr Goulding reconstructed Bird's movements.

He said Bird set out shortly after midnight driving his blue Citroën Picasso taxi from his home in Rowrah where he had lived alone since separating from his wife and children. He had with him a 12-gauge sawn-off shotgun and a Czech-made 2.2 rifle with telescopic sight and sound moderator, both of which were licensed. He also had part of his legally held arsenal of ammunition.

Bird found his semi-naked brother asleep at his home in nearby Lamplugh and shot him 11 times. At 5.05am he left the house and drove to his solicitor's farm at Frizington. Shortly after 10am Mr Commons, 60, arrived and was shot at by Bird and then pursued on foot. His body was later found with two bullets in his temple.

Bird made the familiar journey to the Whitehaven taxi rank where he had been at the centre of disputes with other drivers over queue jumping. "He had been subject to ridicule over personal hygiene and the cleanliness of his vehicle," said Mr Goulding. The arguments had resulted in his tyres being damaged. The last vehicle in the rank that day belonged to Darren Rewcastle, 43. Bird beckoned him over to his window and shot him in the face before shooting him in the back and then injuring another driver.

As he fled, PC Mick Taylor followed Bird's Citroë* through the Whitehaven one-way system in the passenger seat of a commandeered car. He watched as Bird opened fire on another taxi driver, hitting him in the face. Two uniformed officers joined the chase in a marked van.

Bird opened fire on another taxi driver from his moving vehicle. At one point he aimed his gun at the two pursuing officers, who were forced to dive for cover – giving him to time to escape. Bird's taxi was next seen entering Egremont at about 10.50am.

Here one woman escaped when her dog pulled her away. But Susan Hughes, 57, was shot. Witnesses saw Bird get out of his vehicle to wrestle her to the ground before killing her.

Bird then wounded one man and fired and missed at a 15-year-old girl. By now he had rejoined the main A59 heading southwards before turning east and heading inland towards the village of Wilton. On these narrow country lanes he shot and killed Isaac Dixon, 65, who was out checking mole traps. He then called at the house of local sub-aqua club official Jason Carey. Mr Goulding said Bird, a hobby diver, still "bore grudges" against Mr Carey after disagreements over club rules. But Mr Carey was asleep in bed when the taxi driver sounded his horn in the drive and the killer sped away.

Bird then shot and killed Jennifer Jackson, 68 and her husband James, 67, who were chatting with a neighbour. The neighbour also received serious injuries. His next victim was Garry Purdham, 31, a father of two who was shot and killed as he worked by the Red Admiral pub near Gosforth.

Turning towards Seascale, Bird spotted estate agent Jamie Clark, 23, who was found shot dead in his crashed Smart car. Bird drove into the village, encountering a Land Rover under the narrow railway bridge before opening fire and injuring its driver.

Next to die was Michael Pike, a 64-year-old cyclist out for his daily ride. The final victim was Jane Robinson, 66, who was delivering catalogues to neighbours. Witnesses saw her being flung back by the force of the blast after the gun was placed against her face. Another woman was found wounded by the side of the road after being shot in the head.

As noon approached, Bird turned up the Eskdale valley. He shot and injured one holidaymaker before firing and missing at office workers in Boot.

Samantha Chrystie had stopped to take a photo when Bird's car pulled up. He asked her "if she was having a nice day" before shooting her in the head, leaving her with multiple injuries. Bird then pointed the gun at her partner, Craig Ross, ordering him to drive away.

Bird headed into some nearby woods where he knelt, placed the barrel of the gun in the centre of his forehead and fired a single shot. The inquest continues.