A SURVIVOR of a triple killing broke down in tears at an inquest as the weapon used to kill her mother and other family members was demonstrated in court by a firearms expert.
Just 30 minutes before his shooting spree, Michael Atherton had texted his partner offering to stay out for the night rather than risk confrontation, the hearing was told.
But the 42-year-old shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, then killed himself in Horden, near Peterlee, on New Year’s Day 2012.
Firearms expert Pc Mark Outhwaite opened a cardboard evidence box and produced the camouflaged shotgun – one of six weapons legally owned by Atherton – which was used to such devastating effect.
As he showed the coroner Andrew Tweddle how it could be reloaded within moments, and with loud clicks ringing out in the hearing, Laura McGoldrick, who fled to safety by climbing through the bathroom window that night, wept and was comforted by her family.
Two others left the hearing in Crook Civic Centre as the brief demonstration went on.
Atherton, who had arrests for domestic violence dating back 10 years, had a deep-rooted dislike for Alison Turnbull.
He blamed her for his arrest after a family row at his home in 2008.
The sisters and other family members had been out to a local rugby club without Atherton, and he grew angry when his son Mick told him they were out together.
He told his son there would be “trouble” if Mrs Turnbull turned up at his house with the others.
Rather than face a confrontation with Ms Turnbull, he offered to stay the night at a hotel.
Minutes after 11pm, Atherton texted his partner: “Our Mick says you are with your Ali. Going to stop at the Lodge. Aint spending a night in the cells. See you tomorrow.”
But Mrs McGoldrick’s party arrived home in a taxi about 11.30pm, before Atherton left, and his partner accused him of assaulting her earlier that night.
A row broke out and when Atherton went out of the back door, those present believed he was leaving for the night.
But he returned with one of his shotguns that he had prepared for an early shoot with friends the next morning, and started blasting.
He hit his partner from a distance of one metre in the kitchen, the inquest heard, with spray of pellets also hitting Laura.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, who led the investigation, said she was “very lucky” to survive the blast and ran upstairs to her bedroom where her boyfriend was staying.
Atherton then shot Tanya Turnbull twice, causing fatal injuries.
There was no evidence of any previous animosity between the two, Mr Goundry said.
His last victim was Alison Turnbull, who was returning from the toilet, and appeared to have tried to avoid the blast by ducking.
The women’s friend Susan Ferguson was sat on a settee as the horror unfolded, and was spared.
At some point Atherton reloaded the weapon, which could take three cartridges, and shot himself in the head, Mr Goundry said.
Before that, he had “exchanged some words” with his son, Mr Goundry said, and he fled through the front door.
Alison’s partner David Rowe and her niece Lauren Hardman avoided the massacre by not getting a taxi home with the women.
They arrived home at about the same time as armed police.
Mr Goundry said: “It must have been absolutely heartbreaking for David and Lauren.
“They arrived at the house and witnessed the sight that had unfolded in front of them.
“I have been there myself and it is not something I would wish upon anyone.”
The inquest will conclude on Friday after hearing evidence from Durham’s Chief Constable.