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Disappointment for family of Horden shootings victims after government scraps plans for gun hotline

(Left to right) Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull, Tanya Turnbull died of shotgun wounds Photo:

A man who lost three members of his family in a New Year's Day shooting has spoken of his anger at a Government U-turn on a gun hotline as he prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.

Bobby Turnbull's mother Alison Turnbull, 44, his aunt Susan McGoldrick, 47 and sister Tanya, 24, were shot dead by licensed gun owner Michael Atherton in Horden, near Peterlee, in 2012.

The 42-year-old taxi driver, who legally owned six weapons including three shotguns despite having a history of domestic violence, then turned the gun on himself.

Mr Turnbull has been campaigning for a a gun hotline for people to report concerns.

But at a recent meeting with Policing Minister Brandon Lewis, the Gun Control Network (GCN) was told there is now no money for the initiative.

Bobby Turnbull campaigning in London, 2014. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mr Turnbull said:

We are very disappointed that Brandon Lewis came across as giving no support for the gun hotline.

It's a blow to myself and my family and Gun Control Network, who have been campaigning with me.

If a hotline was around at the time, I know that my mum would definitely have picked that phone up and raised her concerns about Michael Atherton, as she knew in great detail about the domestic violence and threats he made.

To have come this far for a new minister to stop it, because he doesn't like the idea of it...and it's coming up to the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.

I cannot understand why he does not want to put this simple change in place.

– Bobby Turnbull

Gun Control Network chairman Gill Marshall-Andrews said:

These three women were killed by Michael Atherton, using one of his licensed guns.

He was known by police to have been frequently drunk and violent towards his partner (Susan McGoldrick) and her family, yet they continued to allow him to keep his guns.

If there had been a dedicated gun phone line at the time maybe the killer's guns would have been removed and Bobby’s family would still be alive.

– Gill Marshall-Andrews

She added that in 2014 the police and Crimestoppers agreed that a gun hotline should be established to provide a means for members of the public to register their concerns about the behaviour of a gun owner, whether legal or illegal.

It was launched in December 2015 but withdrawn in January 2016, apparently at the behest of senior cabinet members who felt that the phone line would ‘criminalise’ law abiding gun owners," she said.

Since then there has been no progress with the reinstatement of the hotline and the Government has said it has no intention of funding it.

I think it is very disturbing that minority interests like this are represented at the top level of the Conservative government. This is not the first time this has happened to us.

– Gill Marshall-Andrews
Bobby Turnbull, 2013 Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mr Turnbull added:

A gun hotline is one of the things I have been campaigning for.

The line would be for neighbours, for example, to raise concerns if a licensed gun owner was, say, coming in drunk and they could hear arguments going on next door – so they could ring the hotline and police could follow the concerns up.

He added: "I want to see as many changes and procedures as possible put in place. I have nothing against gun licence holders.

I was brought up around shooting and countryside sports. I have even had a gun licence myself in the past.

I'm not trying to put a stop on people being able to go shooting and hunting, I am just trying to improve gun licence procedures as best I can - to make it harder for people who shouldn't have gun licences to get one.

This kind of news makes us more determined to see this hotline put in place as we believe it might have saved the lives of my mother, my sister and my aunt.

We will carry on campaigning and do whatever it takes

– Bobby Turnbull

A Home Office Spokesperson said: "The firearms safety line has always been a police-led initiative.

The public should be in no doubt that they can report non-urgent concerns about firearms via the 101 service or the Crimestoppers helpline and, if it is necessary, by dialling 999."