Police reveal how the killer stayed one step ahead of them

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The Independent Online

Derrick Bird, the gunman who shot dead 12 people in a rampage in Cumbria, killed 10 of his victims in less than an hour, police believe. Detailing Bird's exact movements for the first time, officers said the 52-year-old started his massacre by killing his twin, David, early on Wednesday morning. At 10.20am, he killed his solicitor Kevin Commons on his driveway.

Then, between 10.32am and 11.29am, Bird, armed with a shotgun and a .22 rifle, murdered one victim every six minutes, starting with taxi-river Darren Rewcastle in Whitehaven and ending with 23-year-old Jamie Clark more than 10 miles away in Seascale. Police said at least 10 people had come forward to say that Bird opened fire on them but missed.

The speed of his murderous movement across 45 miles of Cumbrian countryside goes some way to explaining why officers failed to catch him during the rampage. Reports of shots fired were reported to police after Mr Commons was killed.

But despite tracking Bird's movements via his mobile phone signal, none of the 42 armed police officers deployed, all of whom were authorised to shoot him without the need for senior approval, got sight of him until after he shot himself in woodland in the hamlet of Boot at 1.30pm.

The plan was to surround Bird, but officers never got close enough. Cumbria's Chief Constable, Craig Mackey, said that at one point officers arrived at one of Bird's scenes "within minutes", but "due to his knowledge of the local roads he had fled". The Deputy Chief Constable, Stuart Hyde, said the officers were "pretty close" to Bird at times. Mr Mackey added: "From what we know, at no stage did any police officer have the chance to end it any sooner."

Even as Bird walked into the woods to kill himself, there were worries that he planned to add to his death toll by murdering police as they pursued him. Senior officers said they feared Bird, whose rifle had a telescopic sight and silencer, could shoot at them from his high vantage-point in the woods. Mr Hyde added: "Tackling somebody with a fairly accurate .22 rifle with a telescopic scope is difficult and challenging for any officer, irrespective of how well-trained they are."

Police are still examining aspects of Bird's personal life for clues as to his motive – it is believed he was heavily in debt and had feuds with almost half of his victims – but the investigation is unlikely to be aided by a suicide note explaining the reasons for his actions.

Officers said they did not find one in his home in Rowrah, west Cumbria, nor, apart from the shotgun he left in his car when he abandoned it, did they find anything of significance in his vehicle. Bird has a 1990 conviction for theft and was assaulted in 2007, but there has been speculation that he had had had more recent contact with the police.

Yesterday, Cumbria police said there had been other contact, but would not specify the nature of it. But they have been in contact with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and they said they expected the case to be referred to the watchdog. Mr Hyde said: "I think it is only right that the public know that we have could have and should have done." The force say they are still attempting to piece together more of the jigsaw. Mr Mackey said: "Twelve innocent people, mothers, fathers, partners and friends, were brutally murdered as they went about their daily lives. I am committed to getting to the bottom of this investigation to find out what happened."

They have family liaison officers with the families of all of the victims, and with Bird's family, too. Mr Hyde explained: "Irrespective of what he has done, he still had people that loved him when he was alive."

Earlier in the day, a nine-year-old boy told of the moment he saw Bird murder one of his final victims. Jordan Williams was out with his mother in Seascale when he saw Bird shooting cyclist Michael Pike, 64. The boy also heard Bird fire the shot that killed Jane Robinson, 66, a short distance away from the scene of the attack on Mr Pike.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I just saw a man just coming up the hill on his bike and then a crazy, like, taxi just came up and shot his back wheel and then shot him in the cheek and then he just drove off.

"He stared me in the eyes, and my mum, and he just kept on driving and he just zoomed off. He looked a bit mad. He had his eyes like a hawk staring at something."

Although the incident lasted for a matter of seconds, Jordan said: "It did seem a very long time. Then he just shot off down the road... then he shot somebody else up there. I just heard, like, a loud bang." Jordan, who said he was "shocked" by the incident.

Father Andy said Jordan had a narrow escape. "I'm so sorry for that families that have lost someone, but I'm just so grateful that mine walked away from it, if I'm honest."