The cold-blooded murder of Harry Collinson by Albert Dryden in front of the region's media shocked the nation. Mark Summers was there to witness the incident unfold and here, in an article printed on the 20th anniversary of the shooting in 2011, he relives the shocking events

IT started as a quirky planning row between an eccentric ex-steelworker and his local council planning department.

Albert Dryden had ploughed his redundancy money into a one-acre plot of land at Eliza Lane, Butsfield, a few miles from Consett, which he called Maryland Close.

He put up two greenhouses, a shed, parked a caravan on the land, and built an archway at the gated entrance.

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Then he hired a digger and scooped out more than 2,000 tonnes of earth from near the fence with the road and built a partly-sunken bungalow in the resulting hole, forming a screening mound around it.

It looked a bit ramshackle, to say the least, but the biggest problem was that Dryden, who wanted to spend his time tinkering with American cars, growing vegetables and keeping livestock, did not have planning permission.

Derwentside District Council - abolished in County Durham's local government shake-up two years ago - was not going to approve an unsightly development in a fairly attractive rural area made up of conventional farms.

The council, which was keen to create an environment conducive to tourism, was also worried the strange bungalow represented a precedent that would unlock the door to other housing on land where it would not normally be permitted.

Once the issue made it onto the agenda of the council's development control committee it was picked up by The Northern Echo and other parts of the media.

Dryden and his bungalow - which was apparently inspired by a man who beat the need for planning permission by building a home completely underground - was, at least to begin with, a tale of the archetypal little man versus bureaucracy with a heavy dash of English eccentricity thrown in for good measure.

Dryden lost his planning appeal to keep the bungalow, although the Government inspector who chaired the hearing said some of the other buildings could stay because of the time they had been there.

The wrangle dragged on for several months with the council attempting to get a compromise that would avoid the need to bulldoze the bungalow.

The last suggestion was that Dryden modify the building and use it for keeping livestock, but he rejected this.

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Albert Dryden on the day he shot dead planning officer Harry Collinson, pictured right

Finally, councillors had had enough and decided there was no option but demolition, as the law provided for.

And that, in a nutshell, describes how we got to that fateful morning of Thursday, June 20, 1991.

As The Northern Echo's north Durham reporter, based in Stanley, a lot of my time was spent covering Derwentside council, which was unusually relaxed and open in its dealing with the press in those days.

Unlike today, when officialdom is protected from inquisitive reporters by a barrier of PR and marketing personnel, you could ring Derwentside's officers with whatever query you had.

I was on good terms with officers and councillors. I often spoke to Harry Collinson, the council's principal planning officer on planning issues, including the Dryden case, which he became involved with from the outset, and always found him helpful.

The council decided to announce the date and time of the demolition in advance because of the media interest in the story. It could have gone in unannounced, but it wanted to be seen to be acting fairly and legally.

The police were consulted and voiced their opposition to a public demolition.

Some of Dryden's supporters were later to say that the presence of journalists and a TV camera may have put pressure on Dryden to take the ultimate step to defend his property.

But the council had another reason for doing things that way - it hoped Dryden's reaction could be contained by the situation.

There were already concerns about threats Dryden had made and an alleged earlier assault on a council official.

Those whose local knowledge went back a decade or two would also know of Dryden's interest in firearms and home-made rockets, which brought him into conflict with the law in the Sixties.

As we understood it, the council's plans were to go to the site with a team of demolition contractors and, if they met any resistance, to turn back and seek a court order to get access.

As a journalist who had spoken to Dryden throughout the planning dispute, I had heard him make threats about what would happen if the bungalow was razed.

I didn't know anything of his past and I didn't take the threats seriously. Most journalists will hear threats of one kind or another during their working lives, and it is invariably bluster.

Talk of driving an American car with a metal frame centre in Consett, seemed absurd and rather far- fetched.

And yet, as D-day approached, there was that little element of nagging doubt.

My opposite number from the Evening Chronicle, Garry Willey, visited Dryden at his home at The Grove and was shown a "full metal jacket" machine gun bullet. He mentioned it to the police.

Even so, the rational side of me said no one would do anything in front of a host of witnesses, including police officers and the region's media.

And in any case, the demolition would be postponed if there was any opposition.

What could go wrong?

On the day, I arrived in good time and asked Dryden if I could join him on his land where other journalists and friends and supporters were gathered.

He agreed, but advised me I should get out when he gave the order that he was clearing his land. He seemed agitated, but would not elaborate.

But he had a letter from the Planning Inspectorate, which he had fixed to his gate.

He had contacted them, saying he wanted to lodge an appeal - in reality he had already exhausted the process - against the refusal of permission for his developments.

It was a pro-forma letter that indicated no action could be taken until an appeal had been heard.

Tragically, it gave Dryden the belief the council was breaking the law, even though there were no grounds for an appeal.

The matter was investigated by an inspectorate official who got to the bottom of it, but the letter telling Dryden he had no appeal did not arrive until after the tragedy.

Harry Collinson came to the gate, looked at the letter and told him it contained nothing to prevent the demolition.

Dryden told him, as we looked on and the BBC Look North TV crew filmed the encounter, that "you might not be around to see the outcome of this disaster".

Mr Collinson told Dryden he could have time to move things out of the building and he moved to a point in the fence where the bulldozer was to come through.

There was quite a throng and Dryden's friend, John Graham - who later committed suicide - argued with the planner.

Dryden meanwhile went to his caravan and picked up a First World War revolver, strode back to the fence and drew the weapon on Mr Collinson, whose last words were to the TV crew: "Can you get a shot of this?"

Garry Willey and I had hung back and were on the edges of the earth embankment.

When Dryden fired, it sounded quite unlike the gun sounds you hear in films.

Nonetheless, we became supercharged with adrenalin as the flight instinct took over, charging across the fields to the A68 end of Eliza Lane, I cut my hand and ripped a new pair of trousers as I clambered over a barbed wire fence.

Meanwhile, Dryden was firing wildly into the fleeing crowd, hoping to get the council's solicitor, Mike Dunstan, but instead hitting TV reporter Tony Belmont in the arm and PC Stephen Campbell in the backside.

Bruce Unwin, now my colleague on The Northern Echo, was at that time on The Evening Chronicle, and was outside the fence. He avoided Dryden's bullets by crouching down behind my car, which had its rear window shot out.

Our photographer, Michael Peckett - in his first day on the staff - asked Dryden not to shoot him when the gun was pointed at him. He produced a remarkable series of pictures of the incident that featured on the paper's front page the following morning.

As we stood taking stock at the end of the lane, the crew from Tyne Tees Television turned up late to find they had not only missed a major incident, but their rivals had footage.

Another newspaper photographer was so traumatised, he disappeared for hours and was later found wandering a back lane. He eventually had to give up work.

Despite being in shock - bizarrely it took a while to realise that Harry Collinson had been killed - I went into auto pilot and started interviewing witnesses for the story I would have to write later.

It was a long, difficult day of conflicting emotions. Part of me wanted nothing more to do with journalism, but another said I had to tell the story.

For the next nine months until the end of Dryden's trial, Butsfield dominated my life and that ambivalence remained.

It was hard to do some of the stories that were thrown up in the aftermath because I was so involved. At other times, it was harder to turn my attention to more mundane matters.

The nightmares and the interrupted sleep were also hard to deal with.

Mistakes and errors of judgement can seem obvious with hindsight.

Durham Police former tactical firearms officer David Blackie, who was called to the scene, questioned in his book Death on a Summer's Day why he and his colleagues were not consulted about the handling of the demolition, particularly as Dryden was known to be interested in guns.

He also shares the view that doing the demolition in the glare of publicity may have inflamed the situation.

But looking back on it all, one thing stands out above everything for me and that is that Dryden, who had acquired quite an arsenal of weapons, was prepared to kill a man in cold blood when there was no threat to his own life.

The first murder captured on British TV did not even save the bungalow because Dryden's family carried out the work in April 1992.