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A specialist law team is taking on a case in which the police are the ones in the dock.

Posted by: Laurence Simons 06/01/15
If ever specialist lawyers were needed to take on a tricky case, it could be that of police negligence ahead of a gun crime. Usually the mention of police and firearms centres on those occasions when officers themselves open fire, which when this happens against unarmed individuals can lead to serious questions about officers' conduct and - as in the summer of 2011 here and recently in the US - civil disorder.

However, the case of campaigner Bobby Turnbull's family is a domestic affair, relating to the homicide of his mother, sister and aunt on New Year's Day 2012, when they were shot dead in County Durham by his mother's partner and licensed gun owner Michael Atherton.

Mr Atherton is planning to sue Durham Police for the way they interpreted gun licensing laws, as Mr Atherton had previously made threats to Mr Turnbull's mother and had a history of drunken violence.
Indeed, in 2008 he told Mrs Turnbull he would "blow her head off" and had his guns seized, but was then allowed them back a few weeks later with no more than a warning over his future behaviour.

In cases such as this, a successful lawsuit may be less about the punishment suffered by the force - which would in any case come out of public funds - or the money paid out than the capacity it may have to lead to a tightening of the law, or at least its interpretation.

"I just want to hold them to account for what they did and I want them to admit to what they've done wrong," said Mr Turnbull, adding that he also wants to discover if any disciplinary action was taken against the officers involved.

This matter may not necessarily go to court. A Durham Police Spokesman has said the force has been in "regular correspondence with the solicitors representing a number of family members and we expect that dialogue to continue". 

It may well be that their legal expertise can avoid this tragic tale being concluded in the courts.