Panorama’s programme on the Cumbria Shootings on Monday evening was short, sharp and horrific. Sensibly, the makers scarcely attempted to answer the many questions surrounding Derrick Bird’s motives for killing twelve people, and then himself in a peaceful wood, but rather focused on following the geographical course he took, just one week ago.
The contrast between the sunlit landscape and the terrible crimes that Bird committed was shocking. Even Conan Doyle, when writing in 'The Copper Beeches' about 'the dreadful record of sin' to be found in the countryside could never have imagined a single man being responsible for such a trail of wanton, pointless destruction. Some of the stories told, albeit briefly, were heartbreaking. Bird started the day by shooting his twin brother, and later he killed – presumably at random – a woman whose twin sister described her own tragic loss. His victims included fellow taxi drivers, many if not all of them perhaps chosen as a result of some grudge, and passers-by who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The chief constable of Cumbria police, Craig Mackey, was grilled by the journalist, but denied that Bird could have been caught more quickly and before killing so many people. We don’t know all the facts, of course, but instinctively I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Mackey’s points, which he put in a reasonable and by no means unduly defensive manner. There are questions to be asked about whether ambulances were allowed, quickly enough, to attend to the victims, but no doubt the answers will emerge in due course.
Strikingly, at the end of the programme, several people who were deeply affected by the shootings – including one man whom Bird shot in the face – expressed a degree of sympathy for the ‘normal bloke’ who snapped in such a terrible way, and with such appalling consequences. This is an extraordinary case which has made a deep impression on countless people, including me. A good deal has now emerged about the personal misfortunes which Bird suffered and which may help to explain, though not excuse, his conduct. But whether it will ever be fully explained remains far from clear.