British PM visits victims as details of carnage emerge

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Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday visited survivors of a gun massacre which killed 12 people in Britain, calling it an "appalling tragedy" as more details emerged of the brutal rampage.

Cameron hailed the "incredible" bravery of local people and emergency service workers caught up in the killing spree 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 revealed more details about Bird's three hours of attacks Wednesday which claimed the life of his twin brother, among others.

David Bird, against whom the killer reportedly held a grudge over their elderly mother's will, was the first to be killed, followed by the family's lawyer Kevin Commons, police revealed at a news conference.

Derrick Bird then embarked on a "45 mile (70 kilometre) rampage", evading police as he used his local knowledge to weave through the area on often isolated roads as 42 armed officers and helicopters pursued him.

His body was eventually found in woodland near the village of Boot by sniffer dogs. Officers believe he was armed with a rifle plus silencer -- for which he had a licence -- and killed himself.

"From what we know, at no stage did any police officer have the chance to end this any sooner," said Chief Constable Craig Mackey, head of the local Cumbria Constabulary, told reporters.

"Twelve innocent people -- mothers, fathers, partners and friends -- were brutally murdered as they went around their daily lives and I'm 100 percent committed to getting to bottom of this investigation".

Mackey's defence of his force's handling of the case came a few hours after Cameron visited officers and survivors to offer his condolences.

The local area has "suffered the most appalling tragedy and it will have a huge impact on the community," the premier told reporters.

"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, 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.

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, saying "There was absolutely no family feud."

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."

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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