Bitter family row over will was trigger that sparked killing rage
Published 03/06/2010 | 05:00
'I went down to the bottom of the field and as soon as I pulled up I saw Garry lying there, he had been shot in the head and he was blue'
A bitter family row over a will may have been the trigger for one of the worst mass killings in British history, it emerged last night.
Derrick Bird (52) is thought to have gunned down his twin brother David and a local solicitor at the start of a five-hour massacre across rural Cumbria which left 12 victims dead and another 25 in hospital.
Bird, a taxi driver, also targeted colleagues with whom he had a row the previous night, after arming himself with two weapons.
He had warned them: "There's going to be a rampage tomorrow," before returning to the cab rank in Whitehaven the following day, where he shot three cabbies -- two fatally.
He then embarked on a chillingly random rampage through the Cumbrian countryside.
His victims ranged from a mother carrying her shopping home and another handing out homeware catalogues to a rugby player mending a fence on his father's farm as Bird drove by.
The only moment in which the 52-year-old father of two appeared to exercise any deliberate choice was as he was faced with the option of gunning down a mother and three young children or a passing cyclist.
He chose the cyclist.
His murder spree began in Bird's home village early in the morning where he attacked Kevin Commons, the local solicitor.
Among his first victims was Darren Rewcastle (43) a well-known figure in Whitehaven where friends and colleagues said he had always been the centre of life.
The pair had worked together for years and friends said they never had any obvious problems in the past.
Turning the gun on two other taxi drivers, killing one and injuring another, Bird's killing spree took him through the town to Egremont, where he came across Susan Hughes.
Ms Hughes, a 57-year-old with two daughters, one of whom is understood to be severely disabled, was walking home from a local shop.
He calmly climbed out of the vehicle and shot her twice in the stomach with a .22 rifle before driving half a mile, where he came across a man named locally as Ken Fishburn, who was believed to be on his way to the local betting shop when he was gunned down.
There were also reports last night that a husband and wife were shot dead in the village of Wilton nearby.
As he reached Gosforth he happened upon Garry Purdham, a 31-year-old former professional rugby league player, standing in a gateway mending a wire fence on his father Jack's farm, and shot him twice.
"He shouldn't really have been there -- he was just doing a little job at the other end of the field with his uncle," Mr Purdham (60), said last night.
"The cows were going in the field and a little bit of wire needed fixing.
"His uncle went home and he went down to the other end of the field. It was just the circumstances of the event."
Hearing two shots he drove up the field to warn his son.
"When I got there I could see his pick up truck but he wasn't where he should have been and I couldn't see him standing in the field," he said.
"I went down to the bottom of the field and as soon as I pulled up I saw Garry lying there, he had been shot in the head and he was blue. I thought, 'Oh no.' It's just a blur after that."
He left behind his widow, Ros, and two sons aged two and eight. His brother Robert (30) now captains the Harlequins rugby league team in London and led the England squad.
Driving on to Seascale he collided with a Land Rover being driven by Harry Berger, the landlord of the Woolpack pub at Boot, under a narrow railway bridge and fired two shots through his window. Mr Berger was hit in the arm and escaped with his life. Moments later as he approached the village of Drigg he came across Jane Robinson (66) who was out delivering catalogues as she had for years when Bird passed and opened fire.
A spinster who lived with her twin sister, Barrie, they were known as the "bird ladies" after they campaigned to save hundreds of pigeons in their sanctuary that had been earmarked for culling amid fears that they had been contaminated by radiation from Sellafield.
Then a local man Michael Pike was shot, and as Bird drove out of the village he shot a woman named Jacqui Lewis. Anxious neighbours were waiting for news of her condition last night.