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Derrick Bird

Crime Files
Derrick Bird

Derrick Bird, the youngest of three brothers, is born with his twin brother David, on 27 November 1957, to Joseph and Mary Bird. Growing up he meets a local woman, Linda Mills, at school. Eventually the couple settle and have two sons. They never marry and the relationship starts to crumble and ends in the early nineties. Bird moves into a pebble-dashed terraced house in the village of Rowrah and lives a quiet, respectable life as a taxi driver. According to the people who live nearby Bird, 52, is the perfect neighbour: quiet, popular and fun to be with. When buying a pint of milk at his local shop, he always pays with a pound and leaves the change. He’s the sort of guy that when passing anyone on the street stops to say hello. So what causes the perfect neighbour to become a killer overnight?


2 June 2012Early morning - David Bird (Derrick Bird’s twin brother) is shot in his bed at his home in Lamplugh.10.20am - Kevin Commons the Bird’s family solicitor is shot in his driveway at his home in Frizington.10.32am - Darren Rewcastle is shot in Whitehaven along with another taxi driver.10.55am – Susan Hughes and Kenneth Fishburn are gunned down near Egremont.11.02am - James and Jennifer Jackson are shot and murdered. Isaac Dixon becomes Bird’s eighth victim.11.20am – In Gosforth Gary Purdham an ex-rugby player is shot at while trimming hedges at a farm.11.29am – Bird arrives in Seascale and shoots dead Jamie Clark, Michael Pike and Jane Robinson.13.35pm – Nearly two hours later the body of Derrick Bird is discovered near Penny Hill Farm in Boot along with his rifle.1 March 2011 – Inquest into the Cumbria killings opens

The Crimes

On 2 June 2010 Derrick Bird snaps and begins a murderous journey that will result in 30 different crime scenes, and with him taking his own life in the picturesque hamlet of Boot. He sets off from his home in Rowrah in his silver Citroen Picasso. His destination is his twin David’s home at High Trees Farm in Lamplugh. Arriving in the early hours he lets himself in, walks up the stairs to his brother’s bedroom and shoots him eleven times while he asleep in bed.Around 5.14am, Bird is seen on CCTV footage driving to the house of his family solicitor Kevin Commons in Frizington. At 10.13am Commons, 60, leaves his front door to find his car blocked in by Bird. Without warning Bird shoots him twice, once in the shoulder and twice in the head. The attack is witnessed by a neighbour.Armed with a 12-bore sawn-off shotgun and a .22 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight, he heads back to Rowrah to try and pick up another gun he’s left with a friend. Fortunately the key to the gun cupboard can’t be found. Not knowing what danger she’s in the friend’s wife offers Bird a cup of tea. He refuses and leaves.At 10.32am Bird arrives in Whitehaven and shoots dead taxi driver, Darren Rewcastle. He also shoots taxi drivers Terry Kennedy, Donald Reid and Paul Wilson. They survive, although Kennedy has to have his right hand amputated. Hearing shots being fired, a local neighbourhood police officer sees Bird’s taxi with a shot gun pointing out of the front passenger window. Alarmed he alerts the police. It’s only now that the police realise a gunman is on the loose. They respond by diverting all Cumbria police officers to intercept. But Bird has an excellent knowledge of the local roads and is always one step ahead.The neighbourhood police officer attempts to follow Bird in a car that pulls over to let him in. He witnesses Bird shoot another couple as their oncoming car passes Bird’s Citroen Picasso. Offering assistance to the injured couple, another unmarked police car takes up the chase. However, the officers become trapped when Bird reverses into a driveway. He points his gun at them and then drives off at high speed.Public warnings are issued throughout the Lake District focusing on Whitehaven, Egremont and Seascale. At 11am David Bird’s body is found by his neighbour.Bird continues his journey through the town of Egremont where he shoots dead 71 year-old Kenneth Fishburne, followed by Susan Hughes, 57, who’s been walking home after doing her morning shopping.Reaching the village of Wilton, Bird sounds his horn outside the home of Jason Carey. Carey’s a member of the local diving club who Bird has had a falling-out with. Obviously seeking to settle a score Carey has the luckiest day of his life when no-one answers and Bird drives off. His next victims are Jennifer Jackson, 68, and her husband James, 67.Arriving in Carleton Wood, Bird murders Isaac Dixon. A part-time mole catcher he’s just been having a friendly chat to a local farmer. Bird then heads to Gosforth and comes across Garry Purdham, 31, trimming hedges in his field. It’s believed that Bird’s method to kill his victims is to call them over to his car and then shoot them in the face. Garry is killed on the spot.The random killings continue when Bird arrives in Seascale. His youngest victim is estate agent Jamie Clark, 23. He shoots at him but Jamie crashes his car and it’s unclear as to what kills him. At 11.27am Bird murders cyclist Michael Pike, 64, and then goes on to murder his final victim, Jane Robinson, 66, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time delivering catalogues.Heading for the Eskdale Valley he opens fire on six more targets injuring another three people. He pulls up to a tourist, asks her if it’s a nice day and then shoots her in the face. She survives but wisely plays dead until his car disappears.Finally with petrol getting low, a blown tyre on his front wheel, and running out of ammunition Bird makes his final journey to a popular beauty spot in Boot, Doctor Bridge. After dumping his car, terrified tourist Lee Turner, asks him if he needs any help. He refuses and heads off on foot with his rifle. The final reported sighting of Bird shows a man looking dejected with hunched-shoulders. Police find his body around 1.30pm.

The Investigation

Police are left guessing as to why this apparently quiet, upstanding member of the community would not only murder 12 people in cold blood, and injure 11 more in a deadly shooting spree but also then take his own life. Answers are needed. At the inquest, on 1 March 2011 in Workington, further details emerge hinting at what could have caused this tragic course of events.Checking through his employment history police discover that Bird worked as a joiner at Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria. But in 1990 he’s caught stealing from his employer and is promptly sacked. Convicted of his crime, but scared of going to jail, he’s given a 12-month suspended sentence. The fact that a few of Bird’s victims worked for Sellafield may not have been a coincidence.His conviction doesn’t affect his ability to own guns. Theresa May (Home Secretary) confirms that Derrick Bird was a legal licensed owner. This comes as a shock to the neighbourhood, who had no idea. It’s later revealed that the guns were left to Bird in a will when his father died. Bird renews his shotgun license in 1995 and again in 2007 for his .22 rifle.After losing his job in the early nineties, Bird takes up employment as a local taxi driver. He’s known to be a quiet guy, so some friends find this an odd career choice. In 2007 he’s assaulted by a passenger trying to dodge his fare at night. This leaves Bird both physically and mentally scarred and ruins his self-confidence. The other taxi drivers play upon this and he becomes the butt of their practical jokes. In an incident while on holiday in Thailand with Terry Kennedy, a practical joke is played. Knowing that Bird enjoys raiding the fridge after a night out, soap blocks are put in a bowl. Bird returns and happily munches on them until he realises what they are. Unfortunately for Terry, Bird is a man who can hold a grudge. The jokes go too far when his tyres are slashed, he’s drenched in coffee and milk is poured in his taxi. According to witnesses they also wind Bird up by jumping the queue to take his fares. Two days before the shootings John McDonald remembers Bird saying “They are going to get it big style. You just watch.”The police are particularly perplexed by the murder of Bird’s twin brother and family solicitor, Kevin Commons. But answers are soon forthcoming. It begins to emerge that Bird is being investigated for tax evasion by HMRC. Neil Jaques, Bird’s best friend, reveals that Bird hasn’t paid tax for 15 years since becoming a taxi driver, and is absolutely petrified of going to jail. Noticing his anxiety, Kevin Commons puts Bird in contact with accountant, Peter Ellwood, who can help with Bird’s tax issues. A meeting is set up between Bird and Ellwood on 21 May 2010. It’s here that Ellwood warns Bird that the maximum amount the HMRC will ask for is £25,000 if they trawl back 15 years to when he first started as a taxi-driver. He also makes it clear that Bird has over £50,000 in savings, so the debt can easily be paid. This is also corroborated by Detective Constable Catherine Rogerson who confirms that Bird is financially secure. The meeting ends with Bird feeling extremely concerned that he might lose his house. This is despite Ellwood trying to reassure him that this isn’t the case. He feels that Bird has stopped listening to him.Another meeting is then scheduled for the morning of 2 June, but by this point Bird’s paranoia has persuaded him that his brother David and solicitor Kevin Commons are plotting against him. Bird is not only convinced that the meetings are being taped, but that he will be arrested on 2 June and sent to prison. It transpires that in 1997 David Bird was in financial difficulty. A year before their dad Joseph died, he gave David £25,000 on the understanding that it was paid back. After their father’s death, David never paid the money back. This left Derrick Bird with a grudge, especially as now he was the one in financial difficulties and also his ailing mum’s full-time carer.By early 2010 Bird becomes depressed by his elderly mother’s ill health and terrified he will be sent to prison for tax evasion. It’s obviously all playing on his mind. Peter McLean a member of Bird’s sub-aqua club remembers Bird chillingly saying a month before the shootings that “Whitehaven will be as famous as Dunblane – you will see soon enough”. At the time Peter has no idea what he’s talking about. During the inquest Dr David Rogers comments that there was no history of Derrick Bird ever being diagnosed with mental health issues.Psychologist Dr West sums up his analysis of Bird and believes that he shot 12 people dead because he wanted revenge for his own failings. He feels that Bird was ordinary but held grudges. As to why he targeted his own brother and family solicitor, Dr West announces that it was because of his mistaken belief that they were conspiring against him. His attacks against the taxi drivers were probably due to the fact he felt humiliated, and he went on to shoot random strangers because he wanted to gain notoriety and put Whitehaven on the map.The jury returned 12 verdicts of unlawful killing on Bird’s victims and a verdict of suicide for Derrick Bird.

The Aftermath

The Cumbria shootings were Britain’s worst since the tragic events of Dunblane in 1996. Memorial services in the towns affected were held on 9 June 2010, a week after the incident, when a minute's silence at midday was held.The Home Office Select Committee said that gun law in Britain “was a mess”, but no new laws would be brought in, and legislation would be kept under review. Instead an immediate review into gun law guidance was called, which resulted in anyone given a suspended sentence would not be able to own a firearms license.Issues had also been found with a particular health and safety rule. It had stopped paramedics giving urgent medical care to critical patients, because they were reliant on the police to declare an area safe. As a result this rule was scrapped. Instead crews would now be able to carry out their own independent safety assessments at serious incidents.