Horden shootings inquest begins in County Durham

Michael Atherton shot three of his relatives dead before turning the gun on himself Photo: ITV News

A police firearms officer who was convicted of selling on guns to the public played a part in granting a gun licence to a man who shot himself and three members of his family.

Damien Cobain, who was convicted of misconduct in a public office, gave evidence today at the inquest into the deaths of Michael Atherton and the family members he shot.

Atherton shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, before taking his own life on New Year's Day 2012 at his home in Horden.

Cobain, who worked as a firearms enquiry officer, was part of the team that dealt with Atherton’s application.

In his evidence he said that he had never seen guidance by the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers on the issuing of gun certificates.

Another officer, Karen Bromley, who was a supervisor in the Durham Constabulary firearms office, told the Coroner's Office:

"There was no formal training, I'm not aware of any formal training in firearm departments.

"Ninety percent of application forms were straight forward."

– Karen Bromley

This lead Coroner Andrew Tweddle to describe the force's procedures as "more of an ad hoc arrangement".

Atherton legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns but that was despite him having a history of domestic abuse.

*Ms Bromley said she had attached a note to Atherton’s file that said: *

"Four domestics, last one 24/4/04, was cautioned for assault. Still resides with partner and son and daughter.

"Would like to refuse, have we sufficient info to refuse re public safety".

– Karen Bromley

However, despite this he was still granted a shotgun certificate and a firearms licence two years later.

Cobain has since left the force after his conviction in 2010, where he was given a suspended sentence for selling on guns that were due to be destroyed after being surrendered by the public.

Deputy force solicitor Stephen Mooney also gave evidence, as he was involved in reviewing the application.

He said usually he would "err on the side of caution" when dealing with cases and that this one had been borderline.

Mr Tweddle asked him why he did not seek to have the certificate refused and whether he feared the possible cost of an appeal.

"I'm putting it to you that one of the reasons you did not refuse it was because you were afraid of appeal," he said.

Mr Mooney said:

"We were not running scared of appeal or the costs of appeal, we needed to look at what we could prove evidentially and we had reached an evidential cul-de-sac.

"If I could change it, in a heartbeat I would. My advice was based on the information I had at the time."

– Stephen Mooney, Deputy force solicitor

Earlier Dr Cooper said all three women died after being shot in the back at close range.

He said Atherton died from a gunshot wound to the left side of his head with the barrel of the gun having been very close when fired.

The inquest continues.