On August 20, 1987, I was in Venezuela. I picked up a copy of USA Today and was greeted by a headline that stunned me:“Gunman kills 16 in quiet English town.” I'd never heard of anything like this in Britain. Michael Ryan, a 27 year old unemployed labourer, had run amuck in Hungerford, Berkshire armed with three guns, shooting dead his mother and 15 other people before killing himself.
Then, nine years later, another loner - unemployed former shopkeeper, Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, marched into a school in Dunblane, Scotland, and shot dead 16 children and a teacher before turning one of his two revolvers on himself. The tennis star Andy Murray was a pupil in the school at the time.
Yesterday, it was the turn of the Lake District. A 52 year old taxi driver, Derrick Bird, left his home in the village of Rowrah, and began by shooting dead his twin brother and the family’s solicitor. There are reports of a dispute over a will.
Then Bird travelled seven miles to Whitehaven and killed a fellow taxi driver. His other nine victims appear to have been chosen at random. After murdering them, he shot himself. People are usually most afraid of crime in our great cities. Well, Hungerford has a population of fewer than 6,000; Dunblane just less than 8,000, and Rowrah a few hundred (Whitehaven is about 25,000). (See also my blogs of March 12 and April 4, 2009)