A SENIOR official involved in the granting of killer North East cabbie Michael Atherton’s gun licences said he would change his decision “in a heartbeat” if he could.
Stephen Mooney, Durham Constabulary’s deputy force solicitor, issued guidance to firearms licensing unit officers that Atherton could have a licence, despite referring to him as a “borderline case”.
He was aware of Atherton’s history of four domestic violence incidents in 22 months, and conceded he should “err on the side of caution” when granting the licence.
But Atherton’s licence was granted after Mr Mooney concluded: “In this particular case, I weighed up the factors and reached my advice.”
Atherton, 42, shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter, Tanya Turnbull, 24, before taking his own life on New Year’s Day last year at his home in Greenside Avenue, Horden, County Durham.
It also emerged during the hearing that a police firearms officer who was convicted of selling on guns to the public also played a part in granting the licence.
Damien Cobain, who was convicted of misconduct in a public office, gave evidence at the inquest.
Cobain, who worked as a firearms inquiry officer, was part of the team that dealt with Atherton’s application.
In his evidence, he said that he had never seen guidance by the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) on the issuing of gun certificates. Cobain has since left the force after his conviction in 2010, where he was given a suspended sentence for selling on guns that were due to be destroyed after being surrendered.
During the first day of an inquest into the four deaths, extracts of Mr Mooney’s statements given in an Independent Police Complaints Commission report were read out.
In one, he said it was felt Atherton may appeal against the blocking of a licence and if he had, the police would have had an “evidential cul-de-sac” as Susan McGoldrick would have been unwilling to give evidence against her partner.
In another statement, Mr Mooney said: “Clearly with hindsight, I would never have advised that Mr Atherton be granted a licence. If I could change it in a heartbeat, I would.”
Kathryn Hardman, sister-in-law of Susan and Alison, speaking on behalf of the family, asked whether the cost of fighting any appeal may have played a part in the decision to grant the licence. Mr Mooney said this would not have been a factor.
Mr Mooney acted in an advisory role for the police force in a chain of command which included acting licensing manager Karen Bromley and licensing inquiry officer Damien Cobain, who both gave evidence yesterday.
A superintendent and deputy chief constable could also be consulted in granting firearms licenses if needed.
Ms Bromley said: “There was no formal training – I’m not aware of any formal training in firearm departments.” This led to coroner Mr Tweddle to describe the force’s procedures as “more of an ad hoc arrangement”.
Atherton legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns, but that was despite him having a history of domestic abuse.
Evidence was also given that showed Atherton had about one and half times the alcohol driving limit in his blood.
* The hearing continues.