British PM visits scene of gun massacre 'tragedy'

4th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron Friday visited injured survivors of a gun massacre which killed 12 people, calling it "the most appalling tragedy".

Cameron also hailed the "incredible" bravery of local people and emergency service workers caught up in the deadly rampage by 52-year-old taxi driver Derrick Bird, which was reportedly linked to his financial problems.

His visit came as police in the rural and normally peaceful Lake District of northwest England battled to work out exactly what prompted Bird to launch a three-hour killing spree which claimed the life of his twin brother, among others.

The local area has "suffered the most appalling tragedy and it will have a huge impact on the community," Cameron told reporters after meeting survivors and police.

"I wanted to come here to show the government wanted to listen, wanted to show how much it cares about what has happened here."

Britain already has some of the tightest gun laws in the world but Cameron said these would be re-examined after the dust has settled.

He said "lots of questions" would have to be asked "and we have to make sure that we answer those questions and do everything we can to help them (local people) through that process."

In the towns and villages where Bird struck before turning the gun on himself, local people were struggling to come to terms with what happened.

"Everyone will pull together and get through it but it's tragic. In the wider community here, everybody knows somebody affected," said Anne-Marie Hodgson, who runs a cafe in Frizington, where Bird killed his family's lawyer.

June Skelton added: "Even if somebody's got money problems, why take innocent people, why not go out to the woods and top himself without ruining 12 families' lives?"

Local Church of England churches were open throughout the day to allow people to pray and reflect on the horror wrought on their towns and villages.

As well as killing 12, Bird also wounded 11 people as he drove through the area, calling people over to his car before opening fire or taking pot shots from the window.

He took his own life in a wood near the village of Boot as police closed in.

Officers recovered a shotgun and a .22 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight. Police confirmed Bird had valid licences for both.

More than 100 officers were working to retrace Bird's deadly journey through an area popular with hill walkers to establish why a man described by neighbours as a "normal bloke" caused such mayhem.

One of his friends, a fellow taxi driver, said Bird had been worried about an investigation by tax authorities into his finances.

"He said: 'They have caught me with 60,000 pounds (90,000 dollars, 70,000 euros) in the bank, the tax people'. He just said: 'I'll go to jail'," said Mark Cooper, 45, who had known Bird for 15 years.

Reports suggested Bird argued with his twin brother David over the money and their mother's will, but David's three daughters denied any family rift.

Rachel, Tracey and Katie paid tribute to their father, a "loving character".

"We would like to take this opportunity to say there was absolutely no family feud. Our Dad's only downfall was to try and help his brother," they said, in an apparent hint at discord within the family.

Police confirmed they were investigating whether financial troubles could have triggered the massacre but would not comment further.

Bird had also argued with other taxi drivers the night before the killings, and reportedly told them: "There's going to be a rampage tomorrow."

Bird's brother and his family lawyer, 60-year-old Kevin Commons, were thought to be among the first victims before he drove to the taxi rank in the town of Whitehaven and shot dead a fellow cabbie.

Other victims included Jane Robinson, 66, gunned down as she delivered catalogues door-to-door and farmer's son Garry Purdham, 31, who was shot as he repaired a fence.

People who knew "Birdy", as the killer was widely known, described a quiet but popular man who lived alone. He was divorced, had two children and recently became a grandfather.

© 2010 AFP

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