UK man 'shoots dead female relatives' in New Year rampage

2nd January 2012, Comments 0 comments

A man shot dead three relatives, all women, at a house in northeast England before killing himself during a New Year's Day rampage, with one male survivor as witness, according to police on Monday.

Police found the bodies of the man, named in reports as 40-year-old Michael Atherton, and three women at the property in Horden after people reported hearing shots in the village late Sunday.

A shotgun was found next to the man's body, police said, adding they were not currently looking for anyone else in connection with the killings. They said Atherton was licensed to own six firearms.

Several people escaped from an upstairs window during the shootings, including a teenaged woman who suffered minor injuries, police said.

A man who survived the attack is being treated as a significant witness, police added.

The victims had been out as part of a group celebrating New Year's Eve and the drama unfolded after they returned home, although a precise motive was unclear.

"This is a tragic event," Assistant Chief Constable Michael Banks from Durham Constabulary told a press conference.

"We have four people who died late last night and our thoughts and feelings are with their family and friends at this moment.

"I would like to reassure our communities that the police are in control of this incident."

Asked who had carried out the shootings, Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry said: "I do believe at this point that it's the 40-year-old."

Banks said the police had had contact with the family in the past.

The news sent shockwaves through the village, which was once predominantly inhabited by local colliery workers but now suffers from high levels of deprivation following the decline of the British mining industry.

Labour party councillor Paul Stradling said the shootings had "shocked everybody."

"It's a typical northeast village, quiet most of the time with a little bit of anti-social behaviour but crime levels are usually low."

© 2012 AFP

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