Cumbria deaths will be 'incomprehensible' to community

By Nigel Thompson
BBC News, Cumbria

Image caption,
Forensic teams have begun to investigate the killings

For the people of west Cumbria, the events of today will be almost impossible to comprehend.

In this part of north west England, shootings are rare and major crime is almost unheard of.

But in the past nine months, the communities here have endured a succession of severe incidents, natural and man-made.

The Keswick school bus crash 10 days ago, in which three people died, is still recent and raw.

And people are still homeless from floods which hit the county last year.

But the shootings will eclipse those, both in terms of violence and the shock that will reverberate throughout the remote area where these killings took place.

Emerging tragedy

It began just after 1030 BST in the town centre of Whitehaven, a picturesque port with a growing appeal to tourists on a day when the shops traditionally close at lunchtime.

Image caption,
Police say Derrick Bird took his own life after going on the rampage

Duke Street is in the bustling Georgian heart of the former port town and the commercial centre; it is home to a taxi rank and it was here where shots were first heard.

The town's shop security radio system, a deterrent to shoplifters and petty criminals, was used to alert traders of the shooting and emerging tragedy.

A few miles south, down the A595, is Egremont, a crossroads between coastal Cumbria and the rolling foothills of the western lakes.

Along with Seascale it is in the shadow of the Sellafield nuclear plant which, with 10,000 staff, is the area's major employer.

Management of the plant shut the site to all staff - shift changes were halted and employees told to stay away.

This area of Cumbria is crisscrossed by minor roads linking coast with countryside; all too easy for a suspect to evade a police force without an air wing and whose main focus this week is the Appleby Horse Fair, the biggest gathering of travellers in Europe.

Image caption,
Police have cordoned off Duke Street in Whitehaven following the killings

The area around Eskdale at the foot of Sca Fell, England's highest mountain, is known for its rugged isolation and it was here where the shootings ended, four hours after it began.

The body of Derrick Bird and a gun found in woodland near Boot, the terminus of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.

And now the painstaking job of finding out what led to the spree begins; forensic teams on the ground in 30 different locations and psychological help offered from NHS staff to the large number, young and old, who have been affected by this incident.

This area of Cumbria is known as a home of straight-speaking, resilient people. That resilience will be needed in the days and weeks to come.