Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Police Seized Weapons from Gunman - but Returned Them; MP Says Health Experts Should Make the Call

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Police Seized Weapons from Gunman - but Returned Them; MP Says Health Experts Should Make the Call

Article excerpt

Byline: Neil McKay

POLICE seized gunman Michael Atherton's weapons three years ago amid concerns about the state of his mind, but later returned them to him, it has emerged.

The 42-year-old taxi driver, who shot dead three members of his family before killing himself three days ago, successfully applied to have his weapons returned after his family had raised concerns that he had threatened to shoot himself.

A spokesman for Durham Police confirmed the weapons had been seized in 2008 after officers were called to Atherton's home in Greenside Avenue, Horden, near Peterlee, after he threatened to self harm.

Last night Labour MP Grahame Morris, whose Easington constituency includes the scene of the tragedy, called for mental health experts instead of police officers to decide who was a fit and proper person to hold weapons.

Standing outside the police cordon in Greenside Avenue, he said: "While police firearms officers may have the technical know-how, they are not trained to assess the mental health of an individual. Their decision is subjective.

"Following an incident in 2008 when police were called to Mr Atherton's house his weapons were removed. They were then returned to him.

"Let's not forget, four people are now tragically dead."

Atherton killed his 47-year-old partner, Susan McGoldrick, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece, Tanya Turnbull, 24, before taking his own life on New Year's Day. The four bodies were found in the semi-detached house after police were alerted to shots being fired shortly before 11.45pm.

Durham Police confirmed that the weapons were taken from Mr Atherton's house as a precaution but, as he insisted there had been no threat to harm himself, the weapons were returned. That decision followed national procedure, a force spokesman said. "It was one person's word against another," he said.

"If there were no grounds for applying for the revocation of a firearms licence the guns would be returned to the firearms licence holder."

Mr Morris said a balance needed to be struck between the rights of shotgun users and the safety of the public. …

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