Hunted down by a maniac

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TWENTY years ago tomorrow, a quiet market village became the setting for what was the biggest mass murder in British history.

Heavily armed with a notorious AK47 automatic rifle, M1 carbine rifles and a Beretta pistol, maniac Michael Ryan took to the streets of Hungerford firing at anyone who crossed his path.

By the end of the day, the 27-year-old had gunned down and killed 16 people, including his own mother, and seriously wounded another 15 people.

As predicted by Sir Charles Pollard, the officer in charge of police operations that day, it was a tragedy that would have a profound effect on policing in the UK.

He says: "I think Britain grew up as a result of Hungerford in some ways. The realisation this could happen in a market town in England where we don't have guns and where the police aren't armed. That changed policing and in one sense it changed society forever."

Like people involved in similar tragedies Ryan lived in an elaborately constructed fantasy world and had become obsessed with firearms.

He belonged to two gun clubs and all of his weapons were licensed and legally owned.

His reign of terror began seven miles to the west of Hungerford in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire at around 12.30pm.

Susan Godfrey, 35, from Reading, was picnicking in the area with her young children when he shot her 13 times in the back.

Her two children were found wandering in woodland and told a passing friend: "A man in black has shot mummy."

Ryan, meanwhile, drove towards Hungerford and stopped at a petrol station three miles out of town. After waiting for a motorcyclist to leave the garage, he shot at the female cashier Kakaub Dean, and missed.

He attempted to shoot her again at close range with his M1 carbine, but the rifle's magazine had fallen out and he fled.

At around 12.45pm, Ryan was seen at his home in South View, Hungerford. He shot the family dog or dogs before turning the gun on his mother Dorothy Ryan.

He torched the house with the petrol he stole from the station, the fire damaging three surrounding properties.

He removed three shotguns from his car and shot and killed husband and wife Roland and Sheila Mason, who were in the back garden at their house in South View.

On foot, Ryan proceeded towards Hungerford Common, shooting two more people, Marjorie Jackson and 14-year-old Lisa Mildenhall, who he shot in both legs. Mrs Jackson telephoned George White, a colleague of her husband, who contacted her husband Ivor Jackson.

They were both later shot, leaving Mr White dead and Mr Jackson injured.

On the footpath towards the common Ryan also killed Kenneth Clements who was walking with his family.

Returning to Southview, crazed Ryan shot 23 rounds at PC Roger Brereton – a police officer who had just arrived at the scene - killing him before he had chance to exit his patrol car.

Linda Chapman and her daughter Alison were shot and injured, after driving into Ryan's path of devastation.

Ryan fired 11 bullets from his semi-automatic into their Volvo, Linda was hit in the shoulder, Alison in the right thigh. Linda was able to drive to the local doctor's without further injury, although she crashed into a tree outside.

Ryan moved along Fairview Road, killing Abdur Khan, who was in his back garden, and injuring Alan Lepetit who was walking along the road.

An ambulance which had just arrived in the road was next shot at, injuring paramedic Hazel Haslett before it drove off.

At around 2.30pm Ryan took refuge inside the John O’Gaunt Community Technology College, thankfully closed and empty at that time of year for summer holidays, where he had previously been a pupil.

Police surrounded the building. Negotiators made contact with Ryan but at one point he waved what appeared to be an unpinned grenade at them through the window. At around 7pm, still in the school, he shot himself.

Towards the end, Ryan was widely reported to have shouted to police negotiators: “I wish I had stayed in bed.”

What Hungerford led to is the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which banned the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricted the use of shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than two rounds.

It also saw a new police communications system brought in after the outdated one used that day was fatally flawed.

Even though they were shocked and badly wounded, many of the survivors and eye-witnesses had managed to call the police, but because the system was so old there were only two 999 lines into the police switchboard.

Lancashire’s top cop said the law on gun ownership had been tightened since the massacre, but there was still more work to do regarding firearms.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan added: “The legislation has been tightened up in terms of Section One firearms and there is no doubt that legislation here is tighter than quite a few other countries.

“Offences of gun crime in Lancashire are thankfully pretty few and far between and yet it’s a threat you can’t ever take your eye off because usually gun crime is linked with drugs and around turf war.”

August 19, 1987, is a date that has left an indelible mark, and that is as it should be. The consequences of failing and out-dated systems and laws are lessons we can never forget.