Disgraced police officer played part in granting gun licence to County Durham killer (From The Northern Echo)
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Disgraced police officer played part in granting gun licence to killer
A FORMER police firearms officer, convicted of selling on guns to the public, had a role in granting a gun licence to a man who went on to shoot dead three members of his family.
Damien Cobain, who was convicted of misconduct in a public office, gave evidence today (March 4) at the inquest into the tragedy in Horden, Peterlee, County Durham on New Year’s Day last year.
Michael Atherton, 42, shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison's daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, before turning the weapon on himself.
At the start of the hearing at Crook, Durham Police solicitor, Fiona Barton, applied for an order granting anonymity to all the officers who dealt with Atherton's firearms’ applications.
However, that was contested by The Northern Echo and the interim order granted by coroner Andrew Tweddle was later lifted.
Mr Cobain, a former firearms inquiry officer convicted in 2010 and given a suspended sentence for selling on guns surrendered by members of the public for destruction - a fact not raised at the hearing, was the first officer to deal with Atherton's application.
He said he had never seen guidance by the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) on the issuing of gun certificates.
Karen Bromley, a supervisor in the Durham Constabulary firearms office, who was acting manager at the time, told the hearing: "There was no formal training, I'm not aware of any formal training in firearm departments.
"90 per cent of application forms were straightforward."
However, she said she had attached a note to Atherton's file as a reminder.
It read: "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 grounds to refuse on grounds of public safety?”
She referred the matter to deputy force solicitor Stephen Mooney, who told the hearing that he regarded it as a “borderline case” and would normally “err on the side of caution”.
But he had no compelling grounds to recommend refusal.
He noted in his report at the time that, if Atherton appealed against refusal, the police would reach an “evidential cul-de-sac” because Ms McGoldrick would be unwilling to give evidence against him.
Mr Tweddle said: “I'm putting it to you that one of the reasons you did not (err on the side of caution) was because you were frightened of an appeal.”
Mr Mooney replied: "We were not running scared of appeal or the costs of appeal. That has never been a factor.
“We needed to look at what we could prove evidentially.”
He added: "If I could change things, in a heartbeat I would. I was only privy to the facts as they stood at the time.”
Despite his history of domestic abuse, Atherton went on to legally own six weapons, including three shotguns.
Pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper told the hearing all three women died after being shot in the back at close range, while Atherton died to a shot to the left side of his head, with the barrel “in contact or extremely close”.
He had about one-and-half times the legal limit of alcohol for driving in his blood at the time.
The hearing continues.