Five dead in gun rampage in English tourist region

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At least five people were killed Wednesday when a gunman went on the rampage in a tourist area of northwest England, sparking a major police manhunt before the body of the suspect was found.

Shooting incidents were reported in 11 different locations in the scenic Lake District before police said they discovered the body of what is believed to be the gunman, 52-year-old Derrick Bird.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "alarmed and shocked" by the shootings at the start of his first weekly grilling in the House of Commons after winning elections last month.

"At least five people have died," he said, adding: "The government will do everything it possibly can to help the local community and those affected."

It was not immediately clear whether the death toll included the gunman.

People in the area were warned to take shelter after the first killing was reported in the coastal town of Whitehaven in the Lake District, which is popular with hikers and climbers.

"There are a number of fatalities... ambulance crews are in attendance across the area," said a spokesman for Cumbria Constabulary.

Police declined to confirm local radio reports that at least four people had been killed, while the BBC reported that there had been shooting incidents in 11 different places.

The body believed to be that of the gunman was found after he had abandoned his car in a rural area inland from Whitehaven.

"I can confirm that we've found a body in a wooded area... which we believe to be Mr. Bird, together with a firearm," said Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde.

One witness said the gunman drove up alongside him at traffic lights by Whitehaven police station.

"As I turned past the police station, I saw all these officers running out and realised something major was going on," Alan Hannah, 68, of Great Broughton, told the Whitehaven News.

"I saw a man with a large shotgun and his windscreen was smashed. I drove through the red light to get... out of the way."

The gunman was reported to be a quiet man who worked as a taxi driver locally.

"You would think he was a very placid, very quiet man, kept himself to himself so I do believe something pushed him over the edge," said John Kane, who knew him.

Sue Matthews, a telephonist at A2B Taxis in Whitehaven, said he was known as "Birdy" and was self-employed and lived alone.

"I can't believe he would do that -- he was a quiet little fellow," she said, adding: "I know he had one son, who was grown up, and he lived alone. He was a regular in town and would have a night out.

"I would say he was fairly popular," she added, while voicing shock at what he had apparently done. "It is like watching something from America."

The incident recalls previous mass shootings in Britain, which has tight controls on guns.

One of the most notorious was in 1987, when 27-year-old Michael Ryan shot 14 people dead in the town of Hungerford in Berkshire, southern England.

And in 1996, 16 children aged five and six plus their teacher were shot dead in the gym of a primary school in Dunblane, central Scotland, by 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton.

These two incidents led to a significant tightening of laws on gun ownership.

Registration is now mandatory for shotguns, which must be kept in secure storage.

Handguns were banned in 1997, and semi-automatic and pump-action rifles are also outlawed.

© 2010 AFP

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