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Triple killer's last fateful text message
MICHAEL Atherton texted his partner hours before shooting three people dead, offering to stay out for the night rather than risk confrontation, an inquest was told today (Wednesday, March 6).
The 42-year-old was enraged when he learned that his partner Susan McGoldrick was out with her sister Alison Turnbull, who he blamed for his arrest after a family row three years earlier.
Keen to avoid further trouble, he texted his partner saying: ¨Our Mick says you are out with your Alie. Going to stop at the Lodge. Ain’t spending the night in the cells. See you tomorrow.”
However before he managed to leave his home in Horden, near Peterlee, County Durham, their party arrived back.
Atherton shot dead Ms McGoldrick, 47, Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, before turning the gun on himself on New Year’s Day last year.
Survivor Laura McGoldrick, who fled to safety from the bathroom window with her boyfriend, broke down in tears today when a firearms officer demonstrated how the weapon used in the killings was reloaded by Atherton.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, who led the investigation, told the hearing in Crook that on the night of the tragedy the sisters and other family members had been out to a local rugby club.
Atherton grew angry when his son Michael told him they were out together – and he said there would be “trouble” if Mrs Turnbull turned up.
Atherton offered to stay at a local hotel for the night and had packed his car to go shooting early the next day, when the party arrived home at 11.30pm.
Mrs McGoldrick claimed she had been hit by Atherton, at which Michael Jnr confronted his father and castigated him, as did Laura.
Atherton went out the back door of the house and appeared in the kitchen with the shotgun in his hand.
He shot Ms McGoldrick at close range in the back, the spray also hitting Laura across her face and shoulder.
Det Supt Goundry said she was “very lucky” to survive the blast and ran upstairs to where her boyfriend was staying.
Atherton then shot Tanya Turnbull twice in the back. There had been no evidence of any previous animosity between the two, the hearing was told.
After reloading the gun, Atherton shot Alison Turnbull as she emerged from the toilet. Michael Jnr came into the front room just as Alison had been shot and “exchanged words” with his father, before he fled the house.
The woman’s friend, who was sitting on a settee, was spared and watched Atherton shoot himself in the head.
Alison’s partner David Rowe and her niece, Lauren Hardman, avoided the incident by not getting a taxi home with the women. They walked and arrived home at the same time as armed police.
Det Supt Goundry said: “It must have been absolutely heartbreaking for David and Lauren.
“They arrived at the house and witnessed the sight that unfolded in front of them. I’ ve been there myself. It is not something I would wish on anyone.”
The inquest concludes on Friday.
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