Policemen were 'unable to stop' Bird's rampage

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Three police officers chased Derrick Bird in the early stages of his shooting rampage but were unable to stop him because they were unarmed, the Cumbria force admitted yesterday. Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said his officers pursued Bird after the taxi driver shot his third victim in Whitehaven, but they did not "have an opportunity to end the killings sooner".

One constable went to help the injured and the others lost Bird after he pulled a gun on them, forcing them to hide. Bird, 52, went on to murder nine more people across Cumbria last Wednesday before shooting himself.

The force has been criticised for not acting swiftly enough. Bird was armed with a shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle when killed his first victim, his twin brother David, in the early hours.

He shot his family's solicitor, Kevin Commons, at 10.20am and another taxi driver, Darren Rewcastle, minutes later. Bird then went on to murder Kenneth Fishburn, 71, Susan Hughes, 57, James Jackson, 67 and his wife Jennifer, 68, Isaac Dixon, 65, Michael Pike, 64, Jane Robinson, 66, Jamie Clark, 23, and Garry Purdham, 31, in just under an hour before taking his own life at 1.30pm.

Yesterday, it emerged that PC Mick Taylor, a well-known local officer, was on duty at Whitehaven police station when he heard shots at 10.30am, and ran out to see Bird pointing a gun out of his taxi window.

After alerting colleagues, he got into a car driven by a civilian to give chase. Paul Goodwin, a lottery manager at the town's rugby league club, had already been following Bird after hearing shots and seeing him with a weapon.

Mr Goodwin said last night: "I'm shouting at people on the street to get out of the way because there's a man on the loose with a gun. I then hear another bang and I think to myself that he's shot somebody else. He gets into his taxi and drives away. He goes straight past my car, so I follow."

After picking up PC Taylor, the pair chased after Bird, who was driving a Citroë*Picasso, for "no more than a hundred yards" until Bird shot a man and a woman in another taxi coming in the opposite direction. "There is a young lady in the passenger seat and she's hysterical," said Mr Goodwin. "Mick gets out of my car and gets the driver and the woman out the way."

The officer helped the wounded, one of whom was a friend of Bird's. Terry Kennedy, who had once holidayed with Bird in Thailand, may need his hand amputated because of his wounds.

Two more officers in a police van carried on the pursuit, following Bird's car until he pulled over and pointed his gun at them. They were forced to hide under their vehicle's dashboard, giving Bird the opportunity to drive away.

"They were forced to protect themselves after it became clear they could not reverse due to the traffic that had built up behind them," the force said in a statement. "We believe [Bird] then drove off at speed. Despite having just witnessed a shooting and having a gun pointed at them, the officers attempted to follow him and, despite asking passers-by where he had driven, were unable to locate him again.

"While they had no opportunity to bring an end to Bird's rampage, they provided valuable information regarding his whereabouts and likely route."

Deputy Chief Constable Hyde added: "This incident was unprecedented and exceptional circumstances were fast-moving and highly dangerous. Had any officer or member of staff had the clear opportunity to stop Bird, I'm confident they would have taken it."

The victims' funerals can now be arranged after their bodies were released yesterday. Relatives packed Whitehaven magistrates' court for the opening and adjournment of inquests into the 12 deaths. During a 15-minute hearing, the North and West Cumbria coroner, David Roberts, said initial post-mortem examinations revealed that all of Bird's victims died from firearms injuries.

Mr Roberts also adjourned Bird's inquest after recording that he died of gunshot wounds in woodland at Penny Hill Farm, Boot. His corpse was later identified by his eldest son, Graeme.