An inquiry has found that Durham Police made ?inexcusable? blunders when dealing with a man who later shot dead three people with legally-held firearms.

Michael Atherton, aged 44, shot his partner and two other family members before shooting himself dead after an argument at his home in Horden, on New Year?s Day.

He legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns, but an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has concluded that his violent past had not been properly investigated by Durham Police.

A copy of the IPCC?s report into the incident, seen by the BBC, concluded that police knew of a number of incidents which should have cast doubt on Atherton?s suitability to hold firearms.

Though Atherton had never been arrested, the police were aware of a history of domestic violence and drunken assaults before he applied for a shotgun certificate in 2006 and a firearms licence two years later.

Shortly after being granted the firearms licence, Atherton?s weapons were seized after another incident at his home, but were later returned without Atherton or his family being formally interviewed by licensing staff.

The rest of this article appears in the 28th November issue of Shooting Times.

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