Quiet English town mourns its victims

4th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

In gorgeous sunshine, a beautiful shallow river flows slowly under an old stone bridge past the ruins of a Norman castle. It should be a picture-perfect postcard scene.

But the bunches of flowers tell of two shocking murders -- among an overall toll of 12 -- that have left Egremont in shock.

Derrick Bird's rampage Wednesday through the quiet towns and villages of western Cumberland, a beautiful corner of northwest England, saw two people gunned down in cold blood on the streets of this old market town.

Susan Hughes was shot as she walked home with her shopping. Ken Fishburn was late for his regular trip to the betting shop. He was gunned down on the bridge.

The South Street bridge over the River Ehen had 30 bunches of flowers laid on the pavement. "I didn't know you but witnessed your tragedy. May God rest your soul," said a card on one bouquet. Another was written in a child's hand.

In the Ladbrokes bookmakers, the staff are visibly upset.

"I've known Ken for the best part of 18 years. He was not only a customer but a good friend. You keep watching the door expecting him to come in," said Diane Lowrey.

Colleague Linda Tubman said: "We just all can't believe it, such a nice guy. He used to come in twice a day, every day. Everybody's in shock. You think it can't happen here."

Egremont is just a short drive south from Whitehaven, the coastal town where Bird gunned down a fellow taxi driver at the start of a three-hour shooting spree which ended with 12 people dead before he took his own life.

Typical of many British market towns, Egremont has its pubs, fish and chip shops, war memorial and Chinese restaurants.

Fishburn was a retired security worker at the nearby Sellafield nuclear power plant, locals said.

"He loved coming up here. He used to have a cup of tea with us, have a laugh and a joke and put the world to rights," said Lowrey.

"He was late yesterday. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. People said he might have been coming to tell us the news, as we've got no regular television here. It could have been anybody."

Harry Lindsay, a 76-year-old retired Sellafield worker, heard the gunshots.

"People are just shocked. It's such a quiet spot. I don't think it's sunk in for a lot of people. It's unbelievable," he told AFP, yards from the scene.

Anneka McCarthy, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, said she was "really, really scared."

"I was just in the house with my mum all the doors locked.

"My brother's in the police at Workington. He rang us and said 'get in the back living room now' because he was driving past our house. The bridge is just down the road from where we live.

"It's like a nightmare and it's not actually happening."

Sisters Jessica and Rebecca Johnstone, 16 and 14, came to lay a bunch of red flowers at the bridge.

"You really don't think it could happen around here, and for it to be so many people," said Jessica, her ice lolly melting in the baking sun, adding that they used to babysit for another of the 12 victims, Garry Purdham.

Her sister Rebecca said their mother used to work in The Stork Hotel public house in the hamlet of Rowrah, where Bird lived.

"Our mum used to know him," she said.

"Said he was a lovely man, always chatting. She can't believe he'd do something like that."

© 2010 AFP

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