The Cumbria Shootings

Derrick Bird
Derrick Bird

The Cumbria shootings was a killing spree that occurred on 2 June 2010 when a lone gunman, Derrick Bird, killed 12 people and injured 11 others before killing himself in Cumbria, England. Along with the 1987 Hungerford massacre, the 1989 Monkseaton shootings, and the 1996 Dunblane school massacre, it is one of the worst criminal acts involving firearms in British history.

The series of attacks began in mid-morning in Lamplugh and moved to Frizington, Whitehaven, Egremont, Gosforth, and Seascale, sparking a major manhunt by the Cumbria Constabulary, with assistance from Civil Nuclear Constabulary officers.

Bird, a 52-year-old local taxi driver, was later found dead in a wooded area, having abandoned his vehicle in the village of Boot. Two weapons that appeared to have been used in the shootings were recovered. A total of 30 different crime scenes were investigated. The event was the worst shooting incident in Britain since the Dunblane school massacre, in which 18 people died.

Queen Elizabeth II paid tribute to the victims, and the Prince of Wales later visited Whitehaven in the wake of the tragedy. Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May also visited West Cumbria. A memorial fund was set up to aid victims and affected communities.

Timeline

– Targeted shootings

In the early hours of 2 June, Bird left his home in Rowrah and drove his Citroën Xsara Picasso to his twin brother David’s home in Lamplugh,[5] where Bird shot David 11 times in the head and body with a .22 rifle, killing him.

He then went to Frizington, arriving at the home of the family solicitor, Kevin Commons, whom Bird prevented from driving away by firing twice with a double-barreled shotgun, hitting Commons once in the shoulder. Commons staggered out of his car and onto the entrance to his farmyard, where Bird killed him with two rifle shots to the head. At 10:20 BST, the police were telephoned. Bird then moved on towards Whitehaven. A witness called the Cumbria Constabulary to report the Commons shooting, although her call was delayed by several minutes after she asked neighbours what she should do. She also erroneously described Bird as being armed with an air rifle despite being able to hear the gunshots.

After killing Commons, Bird went to a friend’s residence to retrieve a shotgun he had loaned, although he was answered by the friend’s wife, who didn’t have access to it. Afterwards, at 10:33, Bird drove to a taxi rank on Duke Street, Whitehaven. There, he called over Darren Rewcastle, another taxi driver who was previously known to Bird and had conflicts with him over his behaviour, poaching fares, and an incident wherein Rewcastle damaged the tyres on Bird’s taxi and openly boasted about it. When Rewcastle approached Bird’s taxi, Bird shot him twice at point-blank range with the .22 rifle, hitting him in the lower face, chest, and abdomen. Rewcastle died of his injuries, becoming the only person to die in Whitehaven.

Soon after killing Rewcastle, Bird then drove alongside another taxi driver, Donald Reid, and shot him in the back, wounding him. Bird then made a loop back to the taxi rank and fired twice at Reid as Reid waited for emergency personnel, missing him. Next, Bird drove away from the taxi rank, stopped alongside another taxi driver named Paul Wilson as he walked down Scotch Street, and called him over to his vehicle as he did with Rewcastle; when Wilson answered his call, Bird shot him in the right side of his face with the shotgun, severely wounding him. As a result of the shootings, unarmed officers at the local police station were informed and began following Bird’s taxi as it drove onto Coach Road. There, Bird fired his shotgun at a passing taxi, injuring the male driver, Terry Kennedy, and the female passenger, Emma Percival. Bird was then able to flee the officers after he aimed his shotgun at two of them, forcing them to take cover. However, he did not fire; he instead took advantage of the unarmed officers’ distraction to escape.

– Random shootings

In the wake of the Whitehaven shootings, residents there and in the neighbouring towns of Egremont and Seascale were immediately urged to stay indoors. A massive manhunt for Bird was launched by the Cumbria Constabulary, which was assisted by Civil Nuclear Constabulary officers. Bird proceeded to drive through several local towns, firing apparently at random, and calling a majority of the victims over to his taxi before shooting them.

Near Egremont, Bird tried to shoot Jacqueline Williamson as she walked her dog, but she managed to escape without injury. Upon arriving in Egremont, Bird stopped alongside Susan Hughes as she walked home from shopping, and shot her in the chest and abdomen with the shotgun. He then got out of his taxi and got into a struggle with her before fatally shooting her in the back of the head with his rifle. Then, after driving a short distance onto Bridge End, Bird fired the shotgun at Kenneth Fishburn as he walked in the opposite direction; Fishburn suffered fatal wounds to the head and chest. This was followed by the shooting of Leslie Hunter, who was called over to Bird’s taxi before being shot in the face at close range with the shotgun, then a second time in the back after he turned away to protect himself. Hunter survived his injuries.

Bird then went south towards Thornhill, where he fired his shotgun at a teenage girl named Ashley Glaister but missed her. He then passed Carleton and travelled onto the village of Wilton, where he tried to visit Jason Carey, a member of a diving club Bird also belonged to, but Bird left when Carey’s wife came to the door. Soon afterward, Bird shot Jennifer Jackson once in the chest with his shotgun and twice in the head with his rifle, killing her. Bird then drove past Town Head Farm, but turned back towards it and fired his shotgun, fatally hitting Jennifer Jackson’s husband James in the head and wounding a woman named Christine Hunter-Hall in the back. He then drove back to Carleton and killed Isaac Dixon, a mole-catcher who was talking to a farmer in a field when he was fatally shot twice at close range by Bird’s shotgun. A former semi-professional rugby league player, Garry Purdham, was soon shot and killed while working in a field outside the Red Admiral Hotel at Boonwood, near Gosforth.

Bird then drove towards Seascale. Along the way, he began driving slowly and waved other motorists to pass him. He then shot a motorist named James “Jamie” Clark, who died of a shotgun wound to the head, although it was not clear at first whether he died from the gunshot wound or the subsequent car crash. Bird then encountered another motorist named Harry Berger at a narrow, one-way passage underneath a railway bridge. When Berger allowed Bird to enter first, Bird fired at him as he passed by, shooting him twice and causing severe injury to his right arm. Three armed response vehicles attempting to pursue Bird were later blocked out of the tunnel by Berger’s vehicle, and nearby citizens had to push it away to let them pass.

Meanwhile, Bird had driven along the seafront and onto Drigg Road, where he fired twice at Michael Pike, a retired man who was cycling in front of him; the first shot missed, but the second hit Pike in the head and proved to be fatal. Seconds later, while on the same street, Bird fatally shot Jane Robinson in the neck and head with his shotgun at point-blank range after apparently calling her over.

After killing Jane Robinson, who was the last fatality in the shootings, witnesses described Bird as driving increasingly erratically down the street. At 11:33, Police Constables Phillip Lewis and Andrew Laverack spotted Bird as his car passed by their vehicle. They attempted to pursue him, but were delayed in roadworks and lost sight of him a minute later. Soon afterward, Bird drove into Eskdale Valley, where he wounded Jackie Lewis in the neck with his rifle as she was out walking. At this point, his route had become clearer to police during their search for him. Next, Bird stopped alongside Fiona Moretta, who leaned into his passenger window, believing he was going to ask her for directions. Instead, he injured her in the chest with the rifle, then continued onward towards the village of Boot.

Arriving there, Bird briefly stopped at a business premises called Sims Travel and fired his rifle at nearby people, but missed. Continuing further into the village, he continued firing at random people and missing. Bird eventually fired his rifle at two men, hitting and severely wounding Nathan Jones in the face. This was shortly followed by a couple who had stopped their car to take a photo; Samantha Chrystie suffered severe wounds to the face from a rifle bullet. Chrystie’s partner, Craig Ross, fled upon Bird’s instruction and was then fired at, but escaped uninjured.

– Suspect’s suicide

Shortly after firing at two cyclists, Bird crashed his taxi into several vehicles and a stone wall, damaging a tyre. Briefly continuing onward, he abandoned his car when at a beauty spot, called Doctor Bridge, near Boot, when the damaged tyre deflated. A nearby family of four, who were unaware of the shootings, offered assistance to Bird, but were quickly turned down and advised to leave. He removed the rifle from his taxi and walked over a bridge leading into Oak How Woods. Bird was last seen alive at 12:30; shortly after 12:30, police confirmed that there had been fatalities and that they were searching for a suspect. Police later announced they were searching for the driver of a dark-grey Citroën Xsara Picasso, driven by the suspect, who was identified as Bird. At around 12:36, armed police officers and dog handlers arrived at the scene of Bird’s abandoned taxi and began a search in and around the wooded area.

At 14:00, Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde announced that a body, believed to be that of Bird, had been found in a wooded area, along with a rifle. Police confirmed shortly afterwards that members of the public who had taken shelter during the incident could now resume their normal activities.

During the manhunt, the gates of the nearby Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant were closed as a precaution, and the afternoon shift was told not to come to work. This was the first lock-down in the history of the plant.

– Aftermath

At 15:00, Prime Minister David Cameron, taking his first session of Prime Minister’s Questions, announced that “at least five” people had died, including the gunman. Later that evening, a police press conference in Whitehaven announced that 12 people had been killed, that a further 11 people were injured, three of them critically, and that the suspect had killed himself. They also confirmed that two weapons (a double-barrelled shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle with a scope and silencer) had been used by the suspect in the attacks and that thirty different crime scenes were being investigated. The shootings were considered the worst mass-casualty shooting incident in the UK since the 1996 Dunblane school massacre, which left 18 people dead. A report later determined that Bird fired a total of at least 47 rounds during most of the shootings (29 from his shotgun, 18 from his .22 rifle). Six live .22 rounds were also found on Bird’s body, while an additional eight were found held inside the rifle. A search in Bird’s home later recovered over 750 rounds of live .22 ammunition, 240 live shotgun shells, and a large amount of financial paperwork.

Over the next few hours, Bird’s shooting of his brother and solicitor was revealed. The police stated that the shootings took place along a 15-mile (24 km) stretch of the Cumbrian coastline. Helicopters from neighbouring police forces were used in the manhunt, while those from the RAF Search and Rescue Force and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance responded to casualties. A major incident was declared by North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust at West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven, with the accident and emergency department at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, on full incident stand-by.

Bird had been a licensed firearms holder, and the incident sparked debate about further gun control in the United Kingdom; the previous Dunblane school massacre and Hungerford shootings had led to increased firearms controls.

Victims

– Fatalities

– – Targeted shootings

  • David Bird, 52, killed at Lamplugh, gunman’s twin brother.
  • Kevin Commons, 60, killed at Frizington, gunman’s family solicitor.
  • Darren Rewcastle, 43, killed at Whitehaven, fellow taxi driver known to the gunman.

– – Random shootings

  • Susan Hughes, 57, killed at Egremont.
  • Kenneth Fishburn, 71, killed at Egremont.
  • Jennifer Jackson, 68, killed at Wilton, wife of James Jackson’s.
  • James Jackson, 67, killed at Wilton, husband of Jennifer Jackson’s.
  • Isaac Dixon, 65, killed at Carleton.
  • Garry Purdham, 31, killed at Gosforth.
  • James “Jamie” Clark, 23, killed at Seascale.
  • Michael Pike, 64, killed at Seascale.
  • Jane Robinson, 66, killed at Seascale.

– Injuries

  • Donald Reid
  • Paul Wilson
  • Terry Kennedy
  • Emma Percival
  • Leslie Hunter
  • Christine Hunter-Hall
  • Harry Berger
  • Jacqueline Lewis
  • Fiona Moretta
  • Nathan Jones
  • Samantha Chrystie

Perpetrator

Derrick Bird (27 November 1957 – 2 June 2010) was born to Joseph and Mary Bird. He had a twin brother, David, and an older brother. He lived alone in Rowrah, and had two sons with a woman from whom he separated in the mid-1990s. He became a grandfather in May 2010, and was variously described as a popular and quiet man who worked as a self-employed taxi driver in Whitehaven.

It was reported that he had previously sought help from a local hospital due to his fragile mental state, although these reports were unconfirmed. Bird had held a shotgun certificate since 1974 and had renewed it several times, most recently in 2005, and had held a firearms certificate for a rifle from 2007 onward. He was being investigated by HM Revenue and Customs. The body of Bird was formally identified at Furness General Hospital in Barrow-in-Furness, and he was cremated at a private service on 18 June 2010.

– Possible motives

There has been speculation that Bird may have had a grudge against people associated with the Sellafield nuclear power plant that he worked for as a joiner, resigning in 1990 due to an allegation of theft of wood from the plant. He was subsequently convicted, and given a 12-month suspended sentence. Three of the dead were former employees although there is no evidence that any were involved with his resignation.

Terry Kennedy, a fellow taxi driver who described himself as one of Bird’s best friends, and was wounded by Bird, has claimed that Bird had a relationship with a Thai girl he met on holiday in Pattaya, Thailand. It has been further claimed by another friend of Bird that he had sent £1,000 to the girl, who subsequently ended their relationship via a text message; he added that Bird had been “made a fool out of”.

It has also been speculated that Bird had been involved with a family dispute over his father’s will. The speculation was heightened when it was revealed that Bird had targeted both his twin, David, and the family’s solicitor, Kevin Commons, in his attacks, killing both.

Police investigating the killings have also found that Bird was the subject of an ongoing tax investigation by HM Revenue and Customs for tax evasion and the threat of possible future prosecution and punishment might have contributed to his action. According to Mark Cooper, a fellow taxi driver who had known him for 15 years, Bird had accumulated £60,000 in a secret bank account and was worried he would be sent to prison for hiding the cash from HM Revenue & Customs.

Reactions

– Official responses and visits

Prime Minister David Cameron was joined by several other MPs in expressing the House of Commons members’ shock and horror at the events during Prime Minister’s Questions.

On the evening of 2 June, the Queen said she was “deeply shocked” by the shootings and shared the nation’s “grief and horror”.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, expressed her regret at the deaths and paid tribute to the response of the emergency services. The Cabinet met to discuss the shootings and May later made a statement on the Cumbria incident to the House of Commons on 3 June 2010. Cameron and May visited the affected region on 4 June 2010 to meet victims, officials and local people.

Jamie Reed, the local Member of Parliament for Copeland, called the incident the “blackest day in our community’s history”.

Prince Charles visited Whitehaven on 11 June 2010 to meet members of the community affected by the tragedy.

– In popular Culture

BBC One altered their programming to broadcast two BBC News Specials about the shootings, at 14:15 and 19:30 on the same day. The ITV continuing drama, Coronation Street was cancelled on 2, 3, and 4 June as it contained a violent storyline featuring a gun siege in a factory. The episodes were rescheduled to run the following week.

An episode of the Channel 4 panel game You Have Been Watching, which was due to be broadcast on 3 June 2010, was postponed because it was a crime special.

Pop singer Lady Gaga came under criticism after performing a murder scene at her concert in Manchester – as part of her Monster Ball Tour – just hours after the shooting spree.

Comedian Frankie Boyle attracted criticism for referring to the shootings on the day.

The Times journalist Giles Coren suggested, via his Twitter feed, that Bird should read a copy of his book on anger management. He later tweeted and apology for the remark.

Memorials

On 9 June 2010, a week after the incident, memorial services were held in the West Cumbria towns affected by the shootings followed by a minute’s silence at midday. Soon after the minute’s silence taxi drivers on Duke St. sounded their horns for one minute to show their respect. The minute’s silence for the Cumbria victims was also marked prior to David Cameron’s second Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament. The funerals of the majority of Bird’s victims were held at various churches in West Cumbria.

– Memorial fund

A memorial fund has been established by the Cumbria Community Foundation to aid victims and communities affected by the West Cumbria shootings.

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