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.