Gun rampage taxi driver kills 12

Sunday 23 October 2011 01:53

A taxi driver went on a shotgun rampage today, killing 12 people and wounding at least 25 before turning his weapon on himself.

Divorced father-of-two Derrick Bird, 52, shot several colleagues in Whitehaven in Cumbria, then drove his cab through the countryside of the Lake District blasting other victims apparently at random.

Following a frantic manhunt, police found his body 20 miles away in woods near the hamlet of Boot three-and-a-half hours later.

Cumbria Police said there were 30 separate crime scenes.

Witnesses spoke of their terror as Bird drove through Whitehaven with the shotgun hanging out of the window of his taxi.

Police said that, after leaving the town, the gunman travelled south along the coast, shooting people in Gosforth, Seascale and Egremont before turning inland and ending up in Boot. Officers later recovered two weapons.

Rod Davies, landlord of Gosforth Hall Inn, said the close-knit Cumbrian communities were shaken by the tragedies.

"There's a lot of very strong feeling of absolute shock. There's a lot of fear - a lot of people are expecting to hear names of people they know," he said.

Bird was said to be close to a fellow taxi driver he killed in Duke Street, Whitehaven, as he started his rampage at about 10.30am.

Glenda Pears, boss of L&G Taxis, said: "We just don't know what's happened. The lad that's been killed was friends with him. They used to stand together having a craic on the rank.

"He was friends with everybody and used to stand and joke on Duke Street."

One Whitehaven cab driver said he understood a total of three taxi drivers had been shot, two fatally.

The man, who did not want to be named, claimed an argument broke out between Bird and the other three men last night at the Duke Street taxi rank.

He said: "All of the taxi drivers were friends. But I heard last night there was an argument on the taxi rank.

"I don't know what caused it, but something must have happened last night. Derrick Bird took off in his car and went home. I don't know what time of night it was."

He said he knew one of the victims, describing him as "a real character".

The taxi driver, who had known Bird for 10 years, added: "He was quite a friendly person. This has been a shock to all the taxi drivers. It's just a tragic thing."

One witness said the gunman drove up alongside him at traffic lights by Whitehaven police station in Duke Street.

Alan Hannah, 68, of Great Broughton, told the Whitehaven News: "A car pulled up on the left, stopping at the lights.

"I saw a man with a large shotgun and his windscreen was smashed. I drove through the red light to get into Lowther Street and get out of the way. I got home safely but was very shaken."

Bird went on to murder popular rugby player Garry Purdham as he worked in a field near Gosforth, local residents said.

Mr Purdham, a farmer's son, was in his early 30s with two young children, according to neighbours.

He played for Workington Town Rugby League Football Club, whose chairman, David Bowden, paid tribute to a man who was "honest and industrious" on and off the pitch.

Bird also shot an elderly single woman, who was one of twins, on Drigg Road in Seascale, locals said.

Boot Inn landlord Sean King said that fellow publican Harry Berger, who runs the Woolpack in Boot, was shot in the arm in Seascale and was recovering in hospital.

A member of staff at the Woolpack Inn said a girl received minor buckshot wounds.

A man reported finding the body of another of Bird's victims - a woman in her 60s carrying shopping bags - outside his house in Egremont.

Billy Boakes, 23, did not see the shooting but heard two gunshots at around 11am.

He said: "I thought nothing of it at first, I thought it was just a trailer banging as it went down the lane but then I looked out the front window two minutes later and saw a car and a push bike parked up and thought there had been an accident.

"I went outside and saw the body of the woman lying outside my house."

Another Egremont resident said she saw the body of a man, thought to be in his 60s, lying on a road bridge in the town.

Bird crashed and dumped his car at the Boot Inn, continuing on foot into the woods where his body was found.

The vicar of Eskdale, the Rev Anne Baker, said she heard that two people had a lucky escape when they approached him after the collision to see if they could help.

She said police were tracing the gunman's route to the wood where he apparently shot himself, hoping not to find any more victims.

Early reports suggested that Bird also killed his mother, but Cumbria Police later confirmed that she was alive and being looked after by her family.

The emergency services in Cumbria were inundated with appeals for help.

A North West Ambulance spokesman said they received 51 emergency calls in the three-and-a-half hours Bird was on the rampage.

West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven declared a major incident, while the accident and emergency department at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle was on standby.

Cumbria Police set up a casualty bureau line on 0845 3300 247 and appealed for anyone with information about Bird's movements over the last 24 hours to contact them.

People who are worried about friends and family can call a police helpline on 0800 0960095.

As he began his first Prime Minister's Questions today, David Cameron said the House of Commons would be "alarmed and shocked by the events unfolding in Cumbria" where at least five people had died in the shootings.

He said: "When lives and communities are suddenly shattered in this way, our thoughts should be with all those caught up in these tragic events, especially the families and friends of those killed or injured."

The Rev John Bannister, from St James Church in Whitehaven, said it was "an awful time" for the town.

He said: "We are still reeling from the disaster with the Keswick school bus. The majority of children on that bus were from here in Whitehaven and surrounding villages and to be faced with this in such a short time is truly dreadful."

Local MP Jamie Reed said the community was "exceptionally close-knit".

He said: "You hurt one of us, you hurt all of us.

"It's the kind of place where you can leave your door open, so it's the kind of thing that really does shake the very foundations."

Three people were in a critical condition in hospital, sources said.

Chillingly, Bird told his friend Peter Leder last night: "You won't see me again."

Mr Leder told CNN that the taxi driver, who lived in Rowrah, near Frizington in Cumbria and was known as "Birdy" to friends, was "an outgoing, well-known guy, who everyone liked".

Cumbria Police have launched a "full and thorough" investigation into the tragedy, looking at Bird's history, access to guns and motives for the shootings.

The Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant was closed while the gunman was on the run.

One of Bird's victims in Seascale was named by a family friend as Jane Robinson, 66, who was shot dead in Drigg Road, just yards from the home she shared with her twin sister, Barrie.

One of the taxi drivers killed by Bird was named locally as Darren Rewcastle.

A fellow cabbie said he had known Mr Rewcastle, whom he described as being in his 30s, for five years.

The driver said: "It was the first I heard about it this morning, when I was told that one of the taxi drivers had shot another one.

"It's been a massive shock for all of us."

West Cumbria University Hospitals Trust deputy chief executive Kevin Clarkson, speaking from West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, said: "The hospital's trust is part of the community it serves and our staff share in the grief.

"The following is an update on those who are most seriously injured. Three casualties are in a critical condition, five are in a serious condition.

One woman told tonight of the moment she was shot at by Bird from his car in Whitehaven.

Ashley Gastor told ITV News she felt the gunshot brush past her hair and miss her, before running to her sister's for safety.

She said: "I thought he was just going to ask me for directions or something. He said something to me and I didn't hear him so I said 'What did you say?' and I turned around and he said 'Do you like...' and I couldn't hear what else he said and when I turned round to look at him he was holding a gun at me out of the car window.

"I held my ears and ducked down to protect myself and the gunshot was fired. I tried to run down the hill and he fired another one, and when I'd run down the corner he went off in the car."

She added: "I felt it go past my ponytail on the back of my hair when I bent down. I was terrified but I was happy at the same time that he'd missed me.

"There was only me on the road at the time - me and his car - so I ran down to my sister's house, crying, and I just heard another gunshot when I was at the bottom of the hill, running away from him."