Bungling armed police involved in triple murder inquest couldn't be named – to protect their human rightsPolice lawyers said their clients feared 'media pointing the finger'Ban overturned following an appeal by the Daily MailOne of the officers involved in case had been selling confiscated firearms

Eleanor Harding


00:17 GMT, 5 March 2013



00:49 GMT, 5 March 2013

A coroner banned the naming of bungling firearms officers in a triple murder inquest to protect their human rights.

In the latest secret justice farce, officers who wrongly allowed Michael Atherton to own guns were given anonymity to respect their ‘right to privacy’.

Police lawyers said their clients were worried about ‘the way in which they were talked about’ and feared ‘media pointing the finger’.

Michael Atherton, who shot dead three women

Former Durham police officer Damien Cobain

Inquest: Michael Atherton (left) killed himself and three victims. During his inquest the coroner banned the naming of officers involved in the case, including Damien Cobain (right)

The ban was overturned following an appeal by the Daily Mail and it soon emerged that one of the officers dealing with Atherton, 42, had been selling on confiscated firearms while serving with the police.

It is the latest in a long line of orders banning journalists from reporting on the courts, which are supposed to be open to the public.

The order was made by Coroner Andrew Tweddle during the inquest into the death of Atherton, who killed himself, and three victims.

The taxi driver, who legally owned six guns, opened fire at his home in Horden, near Peterlee in County Durham, on January 1 last year. He killed his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, before turning the gun on himself. He also wounded his step-daughter Laura McGoldrick, 19, as she fled.

Sole survivor: Laura McGoldrick, 19, who was injured as her mother's partner Michael Atherton opened fire at their home in County Durham

Sole survivor: Laura McGoldrick, 19, who was injured as her mother's partner Michael Atherton opened fire at their home in County Durham

The inquest in Crook, County Durham, heard Atherton had successfully applied for a licence for a shotgun in 2006 and five further guns in 2008.

Officers in the firearms licensing unit at Durham Constabulary knew he had a history of domestic violence and self-harm but decided to grant his application.

One of them was Damien Cobain, a firearms inquiry officer later convicted of selling guns.

In his evidence, Cobain said he had never seen guidance by the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers on the issuing of gun certificates.

Although he found Atherton had not disclosed his history of domestic violence he recommended that his application be accepted. Mr Tweddle describe the force’s procedures as ‘ad hoc ’.

An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the shootings found that Atherton’s applications had not been properly scrutinised by Durham Police.

Six officers were to be made anonymous by Mr Tweddle.

The order to hide their names was made under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights despite there being no legal precedent for it in the UK courts.

But after reading submissions by the Daily Mail and other media outlets, the coroner overturned the ruling, saying that open justice was more important.

Cobain has since left the force after his conviction in 2010, where he was given a suspended sentence for selling guns that were due to be destroyed after being surrendered by the public.