Even though Britain’s Firearm legislation was amended yet again in response to the Dunblane Massacre of March 1996, with the Labour Government of 1997 introducing the Firearms Amendment Act No 2 in that same year, ultimately this piece of legislation only banned the ownership of .22 cartridge handguns in England, Scotland and Wales, whilst leaving shotguns, historic firearms and certain sporting weapons outside of the scope of the new law. With farmers, field sportsmen and competitive shooters all still being able to retain their deadly weapons, the possibility of an unbalanced individual committing yet another Dunblane, or Hungerford Massacre continued to be a real and almost inevitable consequence, even though it would be another 14 years before the country would once again witness a similar tragic loss of life.
On Wednesday the 2nd June 2010, taxi driver Derrick Bird would become the third British gunman to randomly and cold-bloodedly set out on a path of destruction, which within hours would leave a dozen innocent people dead and a further eleven injured, before he would finally turn his gun on himself, leaving little or no clue behind as to why he had behaved in such a deadly manner, or what had finally driven him to such desperate lengths.
Born along with his twin brother David on the 27th November 1957, Derrick Bird was the son of Joseph Bird, a council roads workers and his wife Mary, who already had an older son Brian, who had been born a few years earlier. Although little is known about Derrick Bird’s early life, as one of three boys, it seems likely that he and his brothers would have had their fair share of ups and downs with one another, as each developed their own unique personalities, circle of friends and individual interests. Derrick would later find employment as a joiner and become involved a long term relationship, from which he would have two sons, whilst David trained as a mechanic, got married and subsequently had three daughters.
However, it would seem that both men suffered occasional personal setbacks at one time or another, with Derrick being prosecuted for the theft of materials from the Sellafield Nuclear Plant, where he was working during the early 1990’s, whilst David saw his garage business in the town of Lamplugh fail at around the same time. It was said to be in the aftermath of these events that their father, Joseph, granted David a substantial advance on his future family legacy, a sum of money that was thought to have allowed the failed businessman to settle his debts and to secure his future, an act of paternal generosity that may or may not have caused the seeds of resentment to grow within the mind of Derrick Bird.
By 1995 the two brothers were both thought to be in full-time employment, with Derrick beginning a new career as a taxi driver, while David was said to be working as a plant operator with a local landscape gardening company. However, as a self employed worker, who was therefore legally responsible for declaring his entire income, it has been suggested that Derrick Bird regularly understated his taxi earnings to the Inland Revenue, allowing him to build up a secret bank account containing tens of thousands of pounds of undeclared earnings, which if discovered, would have likely led to a heavy fine and a possible jail term for the dishonest taxi driver. Over the period of some 15 years that he worked as a taxi driver, Bird was thought to have amassed an estimated £60,000 in his undisclosed bank accounts, whilst at the same time being able to take three holidays a year, often with colleagues, who were able to take vacations abroad to exotic places such as Thailand.
Almost inevitably perhaps, the Inland Revenue began to take an interest in Derrick Bird’s financial affairs, possibly as a result of his tax returns, or his lifestyle, a development that was thought to have caused the taxi driver a great deal of personal concern, especially as it began to dawn on him that he might well lose his liberty as well as his undeclared monies. In fact, he was reported to have become so anxious and irritable over the subject of money that on one of his many trips abroad, he had become involved in a drunken fracas with one of his colleagues at Doha airport in Qatar, resulting in him being held there overnight, before being returned to Britain the very next day. It was thought to be as a result of this particular incident that his colleagues then refused to invite him on their next holiday, essentially isolating him from the group and perhaps helping to create the anger and resentment that the generally friendly and inoffensive Bird would later display on Wednesday the 2nd June 2010.
As his own money worries increased, so his twin brother’s situation was said to have significantly improved, most notably after he managed to sell a piece of land to a housing developer, netting himself a reported six figure sum in the process. For the increasingly troubled Derrick Bird, the news of his twin brother’s good fortune much have been especially upsetting, given that his sibling had already benefited from his late father’s generosity, when he had received a £25,000 legacy a few years earlier. Although the Bird family would subsequently deny any suggestion of a feud having arisen between the two brothers over the family’s finances, it seems highly likely that Derrick Bird did actually resent his twin’s good fortune and that money was a major motive in the later murder of David Bird who was shot to death in his bed on the morning of 2nd June 2010.
Derrick Bird’s increasing anxiety over his future was thought to have become apparent to his friends on the 1st June 2010, when he first visited a scuba diving friend, who happened to be working on his allotment on that early Tuesday evening. Although he would later recount how he and the taxi driver had only talked generally about Bird’s ongoing financial problems, it was only when he had insisted that the friend should have his scuba gear, as he could make more use of it; that the friend really became concerned about Derrick Bird’s mental state. The taxi driver was then thought to have visited another friend in the area, who later stated that they had chatted, watched a video and drank coffee, whilst Bird had confided to the friend that he was being investigated by the Revenue and Customs and feared being sent to jail for tax evasion. Although the neighbour had tried his best to reassure Bird over the outcome of any investigation, it seems likely that the taxi driver was still deeply concerned over the issue by the time he left the friends home late on that Tuesday evening to return to his own home.
The next time Derrick Bird was seen by anyone, was around 5.30 am on Wednesday 2nd June 2010, when he was spotted by a dog walker, driving up and down a road in the village of Frizington, outside Mowbray Farm, the home of the Bird family’s solicitor, 60-year-old Kevin Commons. Apart from being the Bird family’s legal adviser, who may have been involved in drafting Joseph and Mary Bird’s wills, Commons was also thought to have been a close personal friend of David Bird, perhaps leading Derrick Bird to believe that the two men were somehow conspiring to deprive him of his future financial entitlements, although there was never any evidence of the entirely innocent solicitor having acted improperly at any time. However, having spent some time outside of the house, Derrick was then thought to have simply driven off towards his brother’s home at High Tree Farm in Lamplugh, where he was said to have shot and killed David, who was still in bed, before driving back to Kevin Commons’ home in Frizington, where he subsequently shot and killed the solicitor as he stood in his driveway.
According to some sources, Mr Commons was thought to have given Derrick Bird some unwanted news, possibly relating to his expected inheritance from his mother, Mary, which the unstable taxi driver may have reacted violently to, but as with much else in the case, this remains a matter of complete speculation. On hearing the gunshots, neighbours were reported to have called the police at around 10.20 am, as Derrick was making his way back to his home at Rowrah, where he was seen to knock on a neighbours front door, but receiving no reply, then got back into his dark grey Citroen Picasso and began his fateful journey to the town of Whitehaven.
Arriving in Whitehaven at around 10.30 am, Bird was said to have driven into Duke Street and made his way towards the town's taxi rank, where a number of his work's colleagues were sitting waiting for calls, as he approached them. His first target was reported to have been Darren Rewcastle, a fellow taxi driver who Derrick Bird was said to have gotten along with, but who had previously been widely accused of illegally touting for business and ignoring the taxi’s ranking system, although quite whether this was the reason for him being targeted first remains unclear. Regardless of the reasons however, Derrick was said to have pointed one of his two weapons at his colleague's head and fired, causing catastrophic damage and killing Darren Rewcastle instantly. As he collapsed to the floor, Bird then turned his gun on another taxi driver, Don Reed, who was said to have instinctively dropped to the floor and tried to crawl away from the gunman, having to climb over the body of Darren Rewcastle as he did so, but not before a blast from Derrick Bird’s shotgun caught him in the back, inflicting serious injuries as it did so. The armed taxi driver then caught sight of yet another colleague who was close by; and walking up to him, pointed his gun and fired at him at almost point blank range, although miraculously the taxi driver, Paul Wilson, subsequently survived the blast, unlike some of Derrick Bird’s other victims that day.
A local man, Paul Goodwin, who was said to have heard the shots and seen the gunman flee the scene, then flagged down a passing policeman, Michael Taylor, who immediately spotted Bird’s grey Citroen at a set of traffic lights and started off up the street in order to try and pursue the gunman. At around the same time that Bird began his murder spree in the centre of Whitehaven, back in the village of Lamplugh, a work colleague of David Bird was said to have arrived at High Tree Farm to find out why his workmate had not turned up for work, only to discover the man’s dead body lying in his bedroom, where he been left some hours earlier by his brother Derrick, who was on the run from the police. It was a particularly tragic death for David Bird’s three daughters, one of whom was thought to have recently had a new baby, making him a grandfather for the first time.
Having made his way out of Whitehaven at around 10.35 am, Bird’s next intended victim was thought to have been yet another taxi driver, Terry Kennedy, who had a female passenger, Emma Percival, in his cab when he was shot at by the gunman. Fortunately for Kennedy, he was thought to have raised his hand just in time to deflect most of the blast from hitting him in the side of the face, which almost certainly saved him from a far more serious or possibly fatal injury, although both Kennedy and Percival did still receive minor wounds from the attack. Derrick then attempted to shoot yet another woman in a neighbouring housing estate, targeting pedestrian Ashleigh Glaister, who just happened to be walking along a footpath as the taxi driver passed by.
Pointing one of his guns in her direction, fortunately for Glaister she was said to have reacted quickly enough to avoid the first shot and then managed to run away before the gunman was able to target her again. It was reported to be around this same time that the police first began to deploy armed officers into the area to try and track down the gunman, before he killed anyone else, although given the rural nature of the area they quickly recognised just how difficult that could be; and were forced to ask the neighbouring Lancashire force to scramble their helicopter to help them in the task.
Having reached the village of Egremont at around 10.55 am, Derrick Bird then spotted Mrs Susan Hughes, returning home from a shopping trip and having stopped his car he was said to have stepped out of his vehicle and shot her dead with his .22 rifle that he had brought with him from home. As he watched her collapse to the ground, dropping her bags around her, Bird was seen by a witness, who later recalled how the gunman’s face had shown no emotion whatsoever and that the rifle was not only fitted with a telescopic sight, but also carried a silencer, which made the weapon look unusually long. Have shot Mrs Hughes, Bird then simply got back into his car and drove off, as he did so, revealing the lifeless body of Susan Hughes to the witness, who had previously been unaware that anyone had been shot. It would later emerge that the 57-year-old divorced mother of two, a quiet and likeable part time worker, was devoted to her two daughters, one of whom was disabled and who lived down the road from Mrs Hughes’ own home in Egremont.
A few minutes later, Derrick then encountered a local man called Kenneth Fishburn on the old bridge at Egremont and having engaged the man in conversation, the gunman simply aimed his shotgun at the 71-year-old and shot him dead. It later transpired that Fishburn had formerly been employed as a security worker at the Sellafield Nuclear Plant, leading some reporters to speculate that he had somehow been involved with the earlier theft case against Bird during the 1990’s; and that the taxi driver had killed him in revenge. However, subsequent investigations by the police found this to be highly unlikely and concluded that Derrick Bird had simply killed the pensioner because he happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, nothing more and nothing less. Further down the road, Bird tried to repeat the crime, when he spotted 59-year-old Leslie Hunter walking down the road, stopping his cab and calling the man over, as if he was searching for an house address.
Unfortunately for Bird, this time his potential victim was far more observant and as he approached the car and bent down to talk to the driver, he immediately noticed the shotgun lying across the front passenger seat. As the driver made to pick up the weapon, Hunter was said to have dropped to the floor and scrambled to hide behind a parked car, although not before he had been caught in the back by part of the shotgun’s blast, which inflicted a non fatal wound to the terrified passer-by. Clearly unconcerned as to the fate of his latest victim, Bird was then thought to have driven away to look for another innocent person to target and kill. He was then thought to have encountered 65-year-old Isaac Dixon, who was a well known character and part-time mole catcher, who just happened to be speaking to a local farmer on the edge of a field when he was shot and killed by Bird, who then simply drove off from the scene.
At just after 11.00 am that same morning Derrick was seen banging on the front door of diving instructor Jason Carey’s house in the nearby village of Wilton, although having failed to get a response was said to have driven off a few minutes later. The reason for his visit remains unclear, but Carey was thought to have ignored the knocking simply because he was in bed, having worked a nightshift the previous evening, so that by the time he stirred and went downstairs to see who was banging on the door, Bird had already left. Shortly after leaving Carey’s home, the gunman was thought to have encountered 66-year-old Mrs Jennifer Jackson, a local woman and committed Christian who had gone out to buy a newspaper from the shops when she was shot and killed by Bird. Tragically, her 71-year-old husband, James, who had only recently come out of hospital, was then thought to have left the family home in search of his wife, only to encounter the killer, who subsequently shot and killed him too, only a short distance from where the body of his dead wife lay. A little time later Bird was said to have shot and seriously injured yet another complete stranger, Christine Hunter, who despite being hit in the back and suffering a collapsed lung somehow managed to avoid being hit again and would eventually recover from her wounds.
By 11.25 am Derrick Bird was reported to have moved on to the village of Gosforth, where he spotted 31-year-old farmer and part-time professional rugby player, Garry Purdham cutting hedgerows on the edge of a field. Stopping his car, Bird was thought to have used the familiar tactic of summoning Purdham over to his cab, before shooting the unsuspecting farmer twice at almost point blank range. A car passing on the other side of the road witnessed the event and later recounted how the gunman, having shot the farmer twice, then calmly got out of the car and shot him a third time as he lay helpless on the floor. They also recalled how the injured man’s father came rushing onto the scene, shouting that his son had been shot by the taxi driver, who in the meantime had driven off yet again.
It was said to be at this incident that members of the general public, including the occupants of the passing car, began trying to flag down local police units, which were reported to be hurriedly trying to catch up with the fleeing gunman, before he managed to kill anyone else. Unfortunately for all concerned, such was the confusion and scale of the manhunt that there would be several more people killed and wounded by Derrick Bird, before the pursuing police units would finally get their man later the same day.
Sometime after 11.30 am Bird was thought to have shot and killed 23-year-old estate agent James Clark who was driving along the main Gosforth Road, returning from a house viewing when he encountered the gunman. Although it was subsequently unclear as to whether or not Bird’s bullets or the resulting car crash killed Mr Clark, there can be little doubt that the taxi driver’s criminal actions actually caused the young man’s death, either directly or indirectly. It would later emerge that James Clark had only recently moved to Cumbria from his home in Buckinghamshire, so that he could be with his young fiancée. Soon afterwards, Bird was then said to have shot and wounded pub landlord, Harry Berger, who was on his way to the chemist’s to get a prescription, when he happened to meet the rampaging taxi driver under a railway bridge, although fortunately the licensee was said to have escaped with nothing more serious than a wound to his arm.
Derrick Bird’s next victim though was not so lucky and as Harry Berger watched in horror, the taxi driver fired once at cyclist, Michael Pike, knocking him off his bike, before firing again and wounding him fatally. A former Sellafield plant worker, 64-year-old Pike was thought to have been employed as a fitter, before becoming a nuclear decontamination specialist and a union organiser at the site. Following an injury, Mr Pike was said to have taken up cycling as a way of speeding up his recuperation and it was whilst pursuing this new pastime he was unfortunate enough to meet Derrick Bird on that bloody Wednesday in June 2010.
The final fatality of Derrick Bird’s murderous car journey that day was thought to be 66-year-old spinster, Jane Robinson, who was delivering home shopping catalogues, when she was shot and killed by the gunman. A quiet and well liked resident of Seascale, Ms Robinson lived with her unmarried sister, Barrie; and was thought to have been just yards from her home when she was targeted by the murderous taxi driver. Heading towards the village of Drigg, Bird then shot and wounded pensioner, Jacqui Lewis, who despite being hit in the head by the gunman, managed to survive her encounter with Bird, who then drove off in the direction of the Eskdale Valley. Reaching his destination at around 12.20 pm, Bird was then thought to have fired several more shots in the direction of a group of people gathered close to the King George IV public house, as a result of which he was said to have slightly injured a female visitor called Fiona Maretta. Moving on again, he then stopped close to a local campsite where he was said to have fired again, this time injuring Nathan Jones who happened to be in the area at that particular moment.
At around 12.30 pm, Bird had eventually reached the village of Boot where he was reported to have encountered a schoolteacher, Samantha Christie, who was visiting the area and taking photographs of the local scenery, when the taxi driver pulled up close to her. Heard to say “have a nice day”, Bird then fired at the teacher, who was lucky to escape serious injury when her camera took the main force of the blast, although she did receive wounds to her mouth as a result of his attack. The last members of the general public to see Derrick Bird alive that day were thought to be married couple Reginald and Kathleen Miller, who were visiting the area on holiday and noticed the seemingly ordinary taxi driver pass them on a narrow track, though saw nothing untoward about him at the time. It was shortly after this meeting that Bird was reported to have damaged his cab, largely as a result of his own reckless driving, which then forced him to abandon the vehicle altogether.
Escaping into the surrounding woodland, it was thought to be shortly after this that Derrick Bird took his own life in a glade just above the village of Boot, where his corpse was finally found at around 1.30 pm by the armed police officers who had been pursuing him for most of that morning. Ironically perhaps, at around 12.40 pm, the police were said to have released the name of the gunman and a photograph of Derrick Bird to the news media, an announcement that was subsequently seen by Bird’s elderly and increasingly frail mother, Mary, who very quickly learned that she had lost two of her sons on the very same day, a shocking and tragic discovery for any parent, made worse by the fact that one brother had killed the other, before taking his own life.
According to some sources police officers had never been more than a minute or so behind Derrick Bird, from the time he began his murderous rampage in the town of Whitehaven at about 10.30 am, to his arrival in the village of Boot some two hours later. Although this might seem highly unlikely, given that some ten people had died and just as many had been injured during his bloody cross country journey on that Wednesday morning, the rural nature of the region and Bird’s intimate knowledge of the local terrain undoubtedly helped him stay one step ahead of the law as he committed his increasingly random acts of violence. It was only once his vehicle was damaged that the local police force was finally able to bring its full resources to bear, with armed officers and dog units all converging on the village of Boot, where Bird’s grey Citroen Picasso was eventually found abandoned, although far too late to bring the gunman to justice.
Quite what drove Derrick Bird to commit such a series of outrageous acts that morning remains a mystery, as in common with the likes of Michael Ryan and Thomas Hamilton before him, the 52-year-old taxi driver left nothing behind to fully explain his inexplicable actions, even assuming of course that he could. As with the previous two gunmen, the authorities also later revealed that Bird was a legitimate gun holder and had never given any cause for concern regarding his ownership of the potentially deadly weapons that he held. Granted his first shotgun licence in 1974, he was thought to have been granted a firearms licence in 2007, which allowed him to hold the .22 rifle that he used on that day, whilst the shotgun he used to end so many of his victim’s lives, was said to have been registered with the authorities since 1995.
Clearly the threat of impending criminal action by the Revenue and Customs department regarding his undisclosed income and unpaid taxes was weighing heavily on his mind, but were such matters serious enough to compel him to kill twelve innocent people, including his twin brother and injure eleven more? Whilst that seems highly unlikely, perhaps a series of seemingly unrelated events all coming together around the same time, conspired to turn an ordinary rational man, into a highly irrational killer, someone who did not care if they lived or died, but who was determined to exact his own form of retribution against those who he believed had either slighted, cheated or even betrayed him. However, although such base emotions might in part account for the deaths of his brother David, the family solicitor Kevin Commons and his fellow taxi driver Darren Rewcastle, as well as the attacks on his other working colleagues in Whitehaven, it does little to explain his murders of the remaining nine, generally anonymous people whose lives were also lost on that particular day in 2010.