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Michael Robert RYAN






The Hungerford massacre
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Motive unknown - A loner, a man without friends other than his mother and who lived in part in a world of fantasy that he weaved and his mother perpetuated
Number of victims: 16
Date of murder: August 19, 1987
Date of birth: May 18, 1960
Victims profile: 11 men and 5 women (including his mother)
Method of murder: Shooting (two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun)
Location: Hungerford, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day


One man's massacre

By Jeremy Josephs


8 ‘A funny sort of grin on his face’

That Wednesday afternoon I was driving around and about the Lambourn Downs, calling on customers on behalf of my employers, ‘recalls Ron Tarry, the then Mayor of Hungerford. ‘Then the BBC announced on ‘ one of its early-afternoon news bulletins that reports were coming in of a series of shootings in Hungerford. It said that someone had gone berserk in the High Street. I thought that this couldn’t be our place. Not that I knew of another Hungerford, mind you. And then it said that it was Hungerford in Berkshire. So it had to be our town. My daughter was at our house with her friend and their children. I thought that they might well have gone down to the High Street. I immediately decided to go back home to make sure that they were all right.’

As Ron Tarry drove home, the town was bustling with shoppers. For generations Wednesday had been market day and therefore the busiest day of the week. It is the one day of the week, Tutti Day apart, when the town really comes to life, with market stalls and shoppers all around.

Michael Ryan was also in town that day. He arrived there just before a quarter to one, fresh from his encounters with Sue Godfrey in the Savernake Forest and Kakoub Dean at Froxtield. He was poised to embark on an orgy of violence and slaughter that would in just over one hour leave sixteen people dead and as many injured. During the six years of the Second World War, twenty-eight men from Hungerford gave their lives for their country, heroes in the fight against fascism. But it was to take Michael Ryan a little over sixty minutes to reach almost two thirds of that toll. He was about to turn a quiet Berkshire town into the most gruesome of killing fields. And in so doing he was about to perpetrate the worst series of shootings in the history of British crime.

But the first thing Ryan did when he arrived back in Hungerford was to return home. He was seen going into 4 South View, and slamming the door behind him. According to a neighbour, Mrs Margery Jackson, he looked extremely uneasy: ‘He looked at me in a very vague frame of mind as if he had been upset or angry and he went inside the house.’

Having committed one murder and bungled a second attempt, Ryan was well aware that it would not be long before the police would catch up with him. In this at least, he was right. For two 999 calls had already been made, one at 12.40pm to the Thames Valley Police and the other at 12.42pm to the Wiltshire Police. This second call was from Kakoub Dean, urgently reporting that she had been shot at. Ryan’s strategy now was to try to escape, to cover up as much of the evidence of his crimes as possible and somehow survive. After thoroughly dousing with petrol the home to which, twenty-seven years earlier, he had been brought back as a baby, he set it alight.

Ryan’s survival kit and three firearms were in his car, and it was his intention to set off again from Hungerford. But as he was about to discover, things were not to go quite as planned. Not that there were any problems with his survival kit, for this he had thoroughly prepared. Safely tucked away in the boot of his car, it included a respirator mask, a flakjacket, battledress trousers and a balaclava helmet with eyeholes. The rucksack contained a first-aid kit in a pouch, and there were also ear mufflers, a NATO poncho, a shoulder holster and a kitbag. In fact Ryan had been so meticulous in his preparations that among all the army surplus gear was a spare pair of clean blue and white underpants.

Nor was there anything wrong with his beloved firearms. As neighbours, strangers and passers-by alike were about to discover, these were all in good working order. The semi-automatic Kalashnikov - his latest acquisition and indisputably the pride and joy of his collection - in conjunction with the M1 carbine and the Beretta pistol, could not fail, he believed, to ensure his survival. These two rifles and one handgun were also in the car, having accompanied him to Savernake earlier that morning. But in reality Ryan’s flight from Hungerford was never to get under way. It would have done ‘if only my car had started,’ the gunman would later lament. The engine flatly refused to turn over.

It was perhaps no surprise that Ryan’s car would not start. For almost a year he had driven it recklessly, travelling just under 18,000 miles and managing to wear all the tyres almost bald, when they should have lasted at least twice as long. That vehicle had been singularly abused from the start. Nonetheless, after his armoury, it had been the second and only other love of Ryan’s life, and the source of innumerable squabbles with neighbours’ children who threatened even to approach it or indeed its hallowed driveway. But now, spraying it with five bullets, he narrowly missed the petrol tank, although he succeeded in causing an explosion outside his home, already set ablaze by his own hand. However, turning his machine-gun on the car was one thing; turning it on his neighbours, quite another.

Almost immediately, round at the back of his house, Ryan took aim at his neighbours. Roland Mason, a keen and able gardener, had been in his garden creosoting the fence of his home at 6 South View. He had planned to finish the fence while the children from number five were away on holiday. But he was never to complete the task, for he died instantly, after being shot six times. His wife, Sheila, then met the same fate, fatally wounded by a single shot which hit her in the head as she stood at the back of the house. The Hungerford massacre had begun.

Kitted out in an olive-green armoured waistcoat, and armed to the hilt with both weaponry and ammunition, Ryan would now dispense death and injury at whim. For those unfortunate enough to cross his path, destruction and death loomed. And in his choice of victims he would show no discrimination. A young punk rocker or a pensioner confined to a wheelchair: to Ryan neither age nor infirmity made the slightest difference - they were all legitimate targets.

Ryan next turned his guns on Margery Jackson, the neighbour who had noticed him arrive home a few minutes earlier. She had soon after seen Ryan emerging from his home and start firing at anything that moved, even a neighbour’s dog. Diving for cover behind tables and armchairs, she had managed to telephone her husband, Ivor, to warn of the impending danger. Ivor insisted on coming straight back home, and his employer, George White, immediately offered him a lift. Then Ryan spotted her.

‘I realized I’d been shot,’ Mrs Jackson would later testify. ‘There was a sort of burning pain in the back. In fact quite a few bullets came into my home. He was jogging up and down, running up and down the lane outside. He must have run up and down the lane about ten times. I think he was determined to slaughter us up there. It was all very quick fire.’

As Mrs Jackson lay injured in her home, she could hear gunfire continuing outside. But at least she had succeeded in her desperate struggle to pull a neighbour, seventy-seven-year-old Mrs Dorothy Smith, inside. Mrs Smith was one of the lucky ones that Wednesday, particularly since, although deaf in one ear, she had upbraided the gunman for disturbing neighbours with his gunshots, unaware that the shootings had signalled the start of the Hungerford killings.

Mrs Smith would later recall: ‘I said: Is that you making that noise? You are frightening everybody to death. Stop it!’ He just turned his head to the right and looked at me. He had a terrible vacant look in his eyes and a funny sort of grin on his face. He looked to me as if he was brain-dead. I realized I was talking to Michael Ryan. I had, after all, known him for twenty years. But he looked so strange that day, I hardly recognized him. So I just yelled out to him that he was a stupid bugger.’

And she lived to tell the tale. Ryan then ran eastwards up South View and towards a footpath leading to Hungerford Common, shooting and injuring two people as he went. One of them was fourteen-year-old Lisa Mildenhall. Lisa was playing in the back of her home when she first heard the commotion outside. As Ryan stood near to her, she looked him straight in the face.

‘I saw this man jogging along the road. He was carrying a great big rifle under his arm as if he was going to fire it. I stopped at the front door and the man stopped jogging as well. I immediately recognized him as Michael Ryan. I fixed my eyes at his eyes and he smiled at me. He then crouched down and aimed the rifle at me. I just froze by the front door. He fired the gun and I can’t actually recall being hit. I thought he was playing about and that it wasn’t a real gun, and that the blood was a blood capsule. I remember thinking, what a mess, and turned and ran inside. As I was running I could still hear shots being fired. I said: "Mummy, mummy, have I been shot?" She looked really shocked and then I realized I had been. There was a lot of blood. I felt weak and fell to the floor.’

Lisa had been shot because, like many others in Hungerford that day, curiosity had got the better of her. Whereas her younger sister was able to take cover as Ryan approached, Lisa had stood there transfixed and was shot four times in the legs and stomach, the bullets splattering her pink leggings with blood. She might well have died had it not been for the timely actions of Mrs Sylvia Pascoe, a St John Ambulance Brigade worker, and another neighbour, Mrs Fiona Pask, both of whom staunched her heavy bleeding while waiting for an ambulance. Unfortunately, as many of the dying and dead were to discover, ambulances were some time in coming, for the police had decided that it was too dangerous for the crews to make contact with the injured.

The road where Ryan had played as a small boy was now heavy with the smell of cordite. Its paths were bloodstained, and there was shattered glass and live ammunition scattered all around. As Ryan took the path towards Hungerford Common, local man Ken Clements was returning from a stroll with other members of his family. Unlike Ryan’s first three victims, Ken Clements had received a warning that someone had’gone berserk with a gun’. He had not believed a word of it, and had even gone out of his way to reassure another neighbour, Mrs Josephine Morley, that it was nothing more than children larking about. But Ken’s son, Robert, was not quite so sure: ‘I felt I couldn’t let him go up there on his own, so I followed a few yards behind. Then this military-type person jumped out on to the track and lifted the gun and fired. My father seemed to fold up on to his back. I stared at the person holding the gun and I looked at the fence and I thought, right, I’m going to have to make a jump for it - and over I went. There didn’t seem to be any way of helping.’

As Robert Clements clambered over the fence and into the adjoining school, he shouted out: ‘He’s shot the old man.’ Ken Clements’s sister and his two daughters did likewise, and ran, quite literally, for their lives. In fact Ken Clements died while trying to comfort his dog, which had been startled by all the shooting. When the pathologist examined the former soldier’s body he was to find the dog’s lead still clasped firmly in his hand.

A little later that afternoon Ron Tarry arrived back in Hungerford. He recalls: ‘When I came into the town, I ran into a road block by the Bear Hotel at the corner, to come up the High Street. I saw someone I knew and asked what on earth was going on. This chap replied to me that a bloke had indeed gone berserk and that he had gone and shot someone at the end of my road. As you can imagine, this didn’t really help a great deal because I still didn’t know about my own family. As the Mayor of Hungerford, I was well aware of my responsibilities in relation to the community. But I must be honest and say that my first reaction was entirely personal. Were my family all right? What about my wife? What about my daughter Judith and her two small children, Stuart and David, who were there that day? I thought that since I knew all the back doubles I would get back to .my home over the Common. But that was also blocked off. So instead I went to some friends of ours. No one knew what was going on, although by this stage there was a helicopter circling up above. The telephone system was completely overwhelmed. But I was lucky and managed to get through after just a few attempts. I spoke to my wife and daughter. Both told me that they were all right. Very selfishly, I was enormously relieved. Because I knew that all my other children were out of town. I then watched the television to try to find out what was going on.’

Liz Brereton, the wife of the Newbury-based traffic policeman PC Roger Brereton, did not have the television or radio on that Wednesday afternoon. She had returned to her home just outside Newbury, having completed her work as a home help. True, she had heard the sound of police sirens as she had gone on her rounds, but she had assumed that there had been a bad road accident and that she would hear about it from Roger later that evening. What she could not have known was that one of those sirens was her husbands. His patrol car was one of three ordered to keep a lookout on the A4 in response to what the police referred to on their radios as ‘the Froxfield. job’, still unaware of the murder of Sue Godfrey in the Savernake Forest. None of these officers was armed. The first information reaching the officers in these early and preliminary reports was that no gun had been used. Within minutes, however, the message had been updated: ‘Newbury have just had a call from a female in South View, Hungerford. We believe the bloke in connection with the Froxfield job is there with a weapon. Person in this area discharging a shotgun. One person injured at this stage. No further details. Over.’

As Liz Brereton later put it: ‘If you’re a policeman and you hear about some maniac, you don’t stop to think, I’m a traffic cop, its nothing to do with me - you just go.’ She was right. Her husband had done precisely that and sped off towards South View, as had his colleagues driving the two other marked police cars. Between them they hurriedly devised a strategy. The incident could best be contained, they thought, by blocking off both ends of South View. PC Brereton’s car would go to the west entrance, nearest the town, while the other two would approach from the east, across the Common.

As he made his way to South View from the end allocated to him, PC Brereton realized the growing seriousness of the incident to which he had been called. The police radio network was now buzzing with reports of further 999 calls. Urgently, he radioed for an update: ‘One-eight, copy. Is he still armed, over?’

‘Bravo sierra five, we have no knowledge at present, over. We assume so; came back the reply.

That assumption was right. By now the gunfire in South View was almost continuous, as Ryan set about shooting at anything and everything within sight, including his beloved labrador, Blackie. As PC Brereton pulled into South View, police headquarters at Kidlington was urging the very greatest of care: ‘HQ to all mobiles. Please treat with caution. The last report is that this person is armed and has used a shotgun and a person is injured.’

For PC Brereton, that warning came too late. In what was undoubtedly the most savage of all the Hungerford killings, Ryan raked the police car with two dozen bullets, from both the Kalashnikov rifle and the Beretta pistol. As they peppered the car, one hit the policeman’s neck, fatally wounding hirn. In total he had been shot four times. Slumped over the passenger seat of the car, but still clutching his two-way radio, he managed to pass on one last message: ‘Ten-nine, ten-nine, ten-nine. I’ve been shot.’

It was police code meaning that an officer was urgently needing assistance. What PC Brereton did not know was that he had been fatally injured.

Forensic experts would later reveal that the pistol bullets were mainly confined to the front section of the vehicle and the windscreen. But the firing had continued down the nearside of the vehicle to the rear of it, and shots had also gone through the back window. In normal circumstances the bodywork of a car can usually be relied on to afford good protection against a pistol. But certainly not from a weapon as formidable as the Kalashnikov. Furthermore, the ammunition Ryan used throughout the massacre had been carefully chosen. It was imported and of Hungarian military manufacture. This differs from ammunition used by Westem armed forces in that the bullet core is a hard steel slug in a copper-coated jacket. Classified as armour-piercing, these bullets were far better able to penetrate through the body of the vehicle and its fittings. The unarmed police officer had simply not stood a chance. Afterwards, not even sparing a look for his victim, Ryan had just run off.

For ambulanceman Adrian Coggins, the nightmare of Hungerford appears unlikely ever to end: ‘One sight will haunt me for ever. That poor policeman with a bullet in his back. He was just an ordinary copper doing his job. A man like me, with a wife and kids back home.’

Liz Brereton was still oblivious to the carnage being inflicted in Hungerford. Having tended to the needs of others, she was now free to set about her own domestic routine, as she recalls: I was just going to put the radio on, as I usually do, but I suddenly stopped myself. It was as if I wasn’t meant to hear. I thought that as it was such a lovely day I might as well clean the bedroom windows.’

The windows of her police house soon looked spick and span, and IAz moved on to the next item on the agenda: the washing. With two teenage sons living at home, there was seldom any shortage of work waiting to be done.

Meanwhile, Ryan continued to make his way along South View, away from the Common. As he did so, Mrs Linda Chapman and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Alison, came under fire. Alison had heard shots coming from South View and had told her mother that she was concerned for the horses she kept there. Together they had decided to investigate. Driving towards South View, they too soon came face to face with Ryan. As the windscreen shattered, Linda Chapman felt a shot hit her neck. She nonetheless managed to drive down Park Street to the doctor’s surgery in The Croft, where mother and daughter both received emergency treatment, Alison having also been shot in the leg.

Audrey Vaquez witnessed Ryan’s technique. It was hardly sophisticated, as she would later reveal to the inquest. She had watched, terrified, from behind her net curtains as the gunman, bearing two rifles and one handgun, waited for a victim, any victim, to approach.

‘He took one step into the road as the car came around the corner, lifted the gun and then fired it at the driver’s window. I heard smashing glass and then the sound of a car crashing.’

Satisfied that his victim was dead, Ryan would then stroll casually away to seek more human targets.

‘He appeared so calm and walked on as if nothing had happened,’ Mrs Vaquez continued, ‘almost as if it was like a fairground game. There was no emotion whatsoever.’

Ryan was firing left and right, reloading from a bag of cartridges on the chest of his sleeveless flak jacket. As the medical authorities realized the scale of the shootings, urgent appeals were made for voluntary nurses to report for duty. More and more police descended on Hungerford, summarily ordering people off the streets. Crowds piled into the Three Swans Hotel, where there was an unseemly dash for the bar. Before long, the busy market-day town had become a ghost town.

Jennifer Hibberd came within twelve feet of Ryan as he stood with a rifle in one hand, so she was able to observe him at close quarters: ‘His face was sweaty, with red blotches. I could see he had a strange smirk on his face, half grinning.’

The gunman’s strategy was to cripple first, then to shoot again to kill. The shots were multiple and came from two weapons. His victims were incapacitated by shots from the Beretta, after which the coup de grace would be delivered by the Kalashnikov.

Near the other end of South View, as his own home burned, Ryan was killing again. His sixth victim was Abdul Rahman Khan, an eighty-four-year-old retired restaurateur, whom he shot twice with the Kalashnikov. Mr Khan had been in the back garden of his home at 24 Fairview Road, peacefully mowing the lawn. His wife, Bessy, would later describe how she had heard a terrible noise after her husband had gone into the garden. She heard him calling to her and saw that he had been shot. But Abdul Rahman was never to recover from his wounds.

Immediately after shooting Mr Khan, Ryan turned his gun on Alan Lepetit, who was walking along Fairview Road towards South View. The coalman had become extremely concerned about the safety of his children and, like the Chapmans, had set off to investigate. Ryan shot him twice in the arm, and then again in the back as he fled from the scene. Alan Lepetit could hardly have been better known to Michael Ryan because he was his immediate neighbour. It was he who had once helped Ryan put up his gun cabinet, as his wife Linda would later recall: ‘He had wanted a hand carrying the Chubb steel case upstairs to his bedroom. Ryan always liked to be surrounded by an armoury of guns, even when he was asleep.’

Unlike Mr Khan, Alan Lepetit survived.

Ambulancewoman Mrs Linda Bright had been based in Hungerford for just three weeks when she found herself, with Mrs Hazel Haslett, the first ambulance crew to arrive on the scene. As they tried to enter South View to tend to the injured, they too came under fire. Although Ryan’s bullet shattered the windscreen of their ambulance, it ricocheted off and they were able to make a quick getaway because they had reversed into South View, instead of driving forwards. But even after coming under fire, with Hazel Haslett having received arm and leg injuries from flying glass, they both continued to give Ryan’s victims first aid, before going on to answer a second call for help and managing to rescue four people who had been shot.

‘As we turned into South View,’ Mrs Haslett would later recount, ‘I screamed to Linda: "Get out of here", and we backed away. When I heard him fire I was petrified. We could see a man running away from him bleeding. We were trying to get to him when the gunman fired.’

As they set about their hasty retreat, they managed to send a quick radio message: ‘Under fire, under fire’, while they drove away from the killing zone. The ambulance crew sought safety just round the corner, where their priority was to warn other crews who, because of the volume of calls, were bound to be approaching. But because part of Hungerford is a communication black spot for the ambulance service, a problem already hampering the police operation, they were not sure whether or not their message had been received. So they headed off towards a nearby old people’s home to make sure that their urgent message came across loud and clear. They had acted decisively and with courage and were later honoured for so doing. In many respects, though, Linda Bright and Hazel Haslett had been lucky that Wednesday, as they would be the first to admit.

Liz Brereton was not to have such good fortune: I was shaking a mat out in the back garden. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an unmarked car pull up outside our house, with a policeman and woman. And I remember thinking, ooh, hello, who’s he dragged. home for tea now. But then I saw my best friend also getting out of the car. I took one look at their faces and I knew it was bad news. I thought it was my eldest son, who had gone up to Wembley to see a Madonna concert. I thought that he had perhaps been killed during a traffic accident. All this was flashing through my mind. I thought, well, where is Roger if something has happened to our son? Then I thought that he was perhaps too upset to face me. When they told me that it was Roger, I said: "Don’t you mean Shaun" - my son - because I was so convinced it was him. I had no idea what had been going on that day. As they talked about a terrible accident, I asked them outright: ‘Are you telling me that my husband has been shot?"‘

Indeed they were.

‘I knew that Roger had been killed,’ Liz would later explain. ‘And people were coming round all the time to comfort me. But I would end up by comforting them. They would come into the house and just burst into tears. They were crying but I couldn’t. So I would just say, "It’s all right", and comfort them. All I experienced was a lump in my stomach. When I did cry, there was nothing much. It was as if it just didn’t seem to want to come. Then I had a couple of good ones, but I knew it wasn’t all. At the beginning I almost felt sorry for that guy, almost. Because I thought for anyone to do that, they have to be completely sick in the head. But that didn’t last long. I have been able to harness feelings of hate towards him, even though in so doing I know that I only hurt myself. But he robbed me of a future, and I’m angry about that. I know it sounds horrible to say so, but the truth is that I curse the day his mother gave birth to him. Because if it wasn’t for him I would be a happy, contented woman. We had all sorts of exciting plans together for the future. It’s often said that life begins at forty - so bang goes that bloody theory.’

When, seven weeks later, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed a memorial service in Hungerford, not surprisingly his words were a good deal more measured:

‘What happened here in Hungerford on 19 August shocked this whole land. A small country town, long in history, rich in memories, beautiful in its surroundings. Surely this is the very epitome of the England of which poets have written -and expatriates have dreamed. That such a place should, on a summer afternoon, erupt in gunfire and terror, blood and death, was, quite literally, shocking to us all.’

Just as the ambulance crews were prohibited from tending to Ryan’s victims, so the fire crews were obliged to stand idly by for almost four hours as the terraced houses in South View burnt almost to the ground. It was, quite understandably, the constant risk of being shot at which prevented them from going in, as Divisional Officer John Cart explains: ‘We tried to get crews in at about half past one, but because of the amount of shots being fired we had to withdraw. The fire is believed to have started about lpm. But it wasn’t until 5pm that crews were permitted to enter. When we did go in, all four properties were quite badly damaged and involved in fire. What we did was to put a sprayjet at the end of the terrace to stop any fire spreading to the bungalow at the end. No personal effects were rescued from any of the houses. All that was left was four walls.’

After venturing briefly into Fairview Road, Ryan, who had now fatally wounded six people, returned to South View. By this time Mr Ivor Jackson, who had earlier received a telephone call from his wife warning him of the catastrophe which was unfolding, was also making his way back into South View, along with his colleague George White, a quantity surveyor. Mr White was at the wheel of the car, having volunteered to drive Ivor home after Margery Jackson’s call. Immediately, his Toyota came under fire, an arc of eleven bullets hitting the car. As George White died at the wheel, the car crashed into PC Roger Brereton’s white patrol car. Ivor Jackson, also shot and injured, immediately realized that one wrong move and Ryan would move in to finish him off, as he would later explain: ‘I saw that this police car ahead of us had hit a telegraph pole. The policeman was slumped inside. Suddenly our car was raked with machine-gun fire, with these bullets starting to come at us. I got three in the chest and I’ve still got one left in my head, which apparently went in through my ear. I realized that I had been shot and so I decided to play. dead. But I still thought that I was going to die. Then, with Mr White no longer in control of his Toyota, we crashed into the police car ourselves.’

As Ivor Jackson feigned death, he hoped and prayed that Ryan would not come any closer in order to inspect his victims. His good fortune, however, was to be Dorothy Ryan’s misfortune, for as he lay motionless in the passenger seat of the car, the gunman’s mother was returning in her car from the local shops. Dorothy Ryan. had been in excellent spirits of late, for she was looking forward to starting, in a few weeks’ time, a new job at a stylish health farm just outside Hungerford. She parked her car behind George White’s and emerged into a scene straight from a horror film. What she was about to confront was all the more horrific in that it was her only child, Michael, on whom she had doted for over a quarter of a century, who was the marauding murderer of South View.

Ivor Jackson recalls: ‘I then heard somebody open the door of the Toyota and Ryan’s mum looked in and said, "Oh Ivor. . ." and she then went hurrying along up the road. ‘Another witness, Chris Bowsher, recalls seeing Dorothy Ryan at the bottom end of South View, talking to a man who insisted that she should not go home. But she was adamant that she should, and pushed her way past him, aware that it was her responsibility to reason with her son. As she ran towards the home that they shared, which was even now being consumed by flames, she threw up her hands in horror. ‘Stop Michael. Why are you doing this?’ she shouted.

In reply, Ryan raised his gun. Understanding at once the danger she was herself now facing, Dorothy Ryan hastily changed her tone. No more remonstrations now; just an urgent plea for her own life to be spared. Amanda Grace overheard it: ‘I heard a woman scream, "Don’t shoot me", and then I heard two rapid bangs.’

As his mother slumped to the ground, Ryan shot her twice more in the back, from a distance of less than four inches. She had been shot with the Kalashnikov. Joining Ryan’s toll of victims, now she too lay sprawled downwards in the road just in front of George White’s car. Ivor Jackson, still pretending to be dead, heard it all.

Dorothy Ryan was the eighth person to die since the first murder back in the Savernake Forest. In all, six had been killed with the Kalashnikov, two with the Beretta. In fact, seven of Ryan’s victims, his own mother included, had died in the small area of South View itself. As the terrified people of Hungerford locked themselves in their houses and cowered for cover, and as a police helicopter circling overhead warned by loudspeaker those living in the cordoned off area: ‘If you value your lives, stay indoors’, there were nowjust two questions on everybody’s mind. How long would Ryan be allowed to continue his slaughter without being challenged? And, more pertinently perhaps, where on earth were the armed police?

It was a question to which Roil Tarry, for one, certainly wanted an answer: ‘I still didn’t know what to believe. I kept saying to myself that this can’t be true. Chicago, yes. Liverpool or the East End of London, perhaps. But Hungerford? Surely not. Many people felt awful for a very long time that afternoon because they just were not able to find out what was going on. All the time we were trying to get information. My daughter knew very well that she had to keep the children indoors and the windows closed. But it was a very hot day, so she spent the afternoon bathing the children -twice. Round -at my friends’ house, we had tea, watched the television and talked. It wasn’t until 7pm, when I managed to find a way back into Hungerford, through a back way, that I began to find out what had been going on. The name of Michael Ryan meant nothing to me, although subsequently I remembered seeing him. But no one, it seems, really knew him. My wife knew Dorothy quite well, though - a very pleasant woman. Many people saw bloodshed. I didn’t, because the bodies had been removed by the time I reached the scene. But I did see some of the cars, bloodstained and with bullet holes, smashed windscreens, and so on. We are a very small community and it of course affects us all. We were all in state of shock. I thought, what on earth can people do? What can I do? What can be done? I didn’t know what to do -just that something should be done. That we couldn’t simply sit around.’

A little later that evening ITN made contact with Ron Tarry, as did the BBC. He immediately agreed to their requests. Unbeknown to him, however, the Mayor was about to-have a role thrust on him. For he was to become, both nationally and internationally, the ‘voice of Hungerford’, instantly recognizable by his gentle Berkshire burr.

At the Ibmel Club in Devizes, where Ryan had spent so much of his time during the previous few weeks, signing in virtually every other day in order to sharpen his shot, there was similar shock and outrage. ‘Michael Ryan didn’t give the slightest indication that he was a head case,’ one of its directors would later insist. ‘With hindsight, though, you can see that he was like a silent tiger.’

But the tiger had still only exacted half of his toll. Indeed for several hours on that black afternoon that same silent tiger had still to be located, let alone silenced. He was free to roam the lanes and alleyways of Hungerford, and thus to resume the killings anywhere, anytime and entirely at his whim.

Ryan now slipped out of South View, heading across the adjoining playing field. No one saw him go.


9 ‘Be still, and know that I am God’

During the early part of the evening of Tuesday 18 August, some sixteen hours before Michael Ryan embarked on his bloody rampage, the Reverend David Salt, Hungerford’s vicar, was wrestling with an age-old dilemma. So too were other members of the Stewardship Committee of St Lawrence’s church. While representatives were keen to promote the concept of Christian stewardship, they were equally adamant that any events they might organize should not be, or be seen to be, merely another round of fund-raising activities. The Committee members concluded that the only satisfactory answer was to actually demonstrate their love and care for the community of Hungerford. But how, in practical terms, was this to be done?

‘The next day, Wednesday 19 August, we had a kind of answer,’ the Reverend Salt would later reflect. ‘It was not the one we were looking for, of course. But soon there was to be no room for Christian theories of compassion and what we might do, for the task was all too plain.’

Shortly after lunch on that Wednesday afternoon the vicar was preparing for his weekly hospital visit. But before setting off, he had to make a number of important phone calls. However, each time he dialled a number the line was engaged. He thought that for so many numbers to be so consistently busy was a little strange, and concluded that there was probably a fault on the line. Leaving the vicarage in his gold-coloured Mitsubishi Colt, he set off towards Hungerford High Street. This time it was ambulances, not antiques, which caught his eye. For he soon found himself staring at an entire fleet of hospital vehicles, all from adjoining Wiltshire.

‘They all looked clean and shiny. So I thought that maybe Wiltshire County Council had taken on a number of new ambulances and they were having a joy ride, or something like that.’

The Reverend Salt, a small, bespectacled man, had come to Hungerford three years earlier, having previously been based at Checkendon. In fact both Hungerford and Checkendon are Anglican churches falling within the Diocese of Oxford. But the Reverend Salts was the only Anglican church in Hungerford, and thus he was the community’s only full-time Anglican minister.

‘I was very happy to go to Hungerford,’ the vicar would later recall. ‘Before I took up my appointment I was invited to go along to see the church of St Lawrence and meet members of the community. I noticed straight away that many pews had been removed from the back of the church. This told me that they were a community church, and I liked that.’

The new vicar instinctively felt that the church, while active, was lacking in young people. There was an imbalance in the composition of the congregation, which he felt had to be redressed. And before long there was indeed movement in the air. One particularly committed parishioner, Mary Grayson, started a boys’ choir almost from scratch. It was very successful, soon gaining a number of diocesan awards. The Reverend Salt also began to liaise with the schools in Hungerford and from the start found a warm welcome.

‘I was very pleased with how things were coming along. I then got the girls to come in and do the serving at the altar in communion. Attendance began to creep up, and we eventually had three teams of six servers. And then we got a tiny tots’ club going during the week.’

The Reverend Salt had been based at Checkendon for well over a decade when he first felt that the time was right for a change. But it was while working as chaplain at Borocourt Hospital, within the parish of Checkendon, that he had had his first contact with handicapped children, some of whom were triply afflicted, being deaf, dumb and mentally handicapped. As he explains, ‘So You might say that I had some idea of tragedy already. Whatever you are faced with, you don’t necessarily panic. Because you know that this is part of life.’

Unlike the majority of English clergy, the Reverend Salt also brought with him to Hungerford a wealth of experience from his time overseas. Having been based in the Pacific islands foreight years, he had served as a missionary in what is now the Church Province of Melanesia. Initially based on the island of Aoba, he had then moved to Pentecost Island, where two of his three children were born. From there it was to the Solomon Islands. It was an environment in which he had thrived, although there had been many moments when the vicar, his wife and their young children had found themselves truly alone.

‘You would face cyclones and human tragedies with monotonous regularity,’ the vicar recalls. ‘Once a boat caught fire. People were badly burned. And, in the tropics, that hurts, believe you me. That time we were given medical help, but often were just not able to get any medical assistance at all. So all of this was background training if you like. Even within our own family there was often malaria and high fever. Again, we simply had to sort it out ourselves. So too with the rough seas. Death was very much a reality.’

The Reverend Salt’s curriculum vitae might reveal a distinctly international flavour, but his roots were solidly English. He was born and brought up in Berkshire, in a family who were all closely associated with the Church. Both David Salt and his brother had themselves sung in the church choir, and llus older sister went on to become a parish worker and a missionary for twenty-two years. He was only thirteen when he began to feel some sort of calling to the ministry, a feeling which matured as his academic career progressed. With national service out of the way - three years in the RAF - he went on to graduate from King’s College, London, with a degree in theology. From there it was straight out to the exotic islands of the Pacific; with him went his wife, who had sung in the very same church choir of his childhood.

As the vicar drew up in Hungerford that Wednesday afternoon, there was a knocking on the window of his car. It was a journalist from the Daily Express who, having spotted his dog-collar, was eager to obtain the minister’s reaction to the carnage and slaughter unfolding by the moment in the town. But since the minister was unaware of what had happened, naturally he had nothing to say. Their roles reversed, the journalist rattled out what information he had so far been able to gather.

‘When I arrived in the High Street I realized that something had happened,’ the vicar explains, ‘Because there were still more ambulances this time from Berkshire. I then met Neal Marney, an ambulanceman I knew, and he told me that the best thing to do was to go home and lock your doors, because nobody knew where this man was, and that the gunman was still on the loose.’

It was sound advice. Heading back towards his home with the car radio on, the Reverend Salt, like the rest of the town, was desperate for information. But hard news was a scarce commodity in Hungerford that afternoon. Back in the vicarage, having wisely locked himself in, he continued to monitor the news bulletins, listening to the radio and television simultaneously. Some facts did begin to emerge, but much of the information was wildly inaccurate. Because whatever atrocities the gunman might have committed, the vicar already knew that they had not taken place in the High Street. That much he had seen for himself. That was just as well, because the High Street had been packed with market-day shoppers.

At 4pm the Reverend Salt’s son, Stephen, having heard on the radio what had happened, managed to get through to his father on the telephone. He had been extremely concerned about the safety of both of his parents. Yet the vicar felt that his place should be in the town, where, whatever else was happening, there was clearly great suffering. So he set off again towards the town centre. Perhaps, on the streets, he would be able to find out just what was going on. He was soon to discover, however, that it was simply not possible to get through, for the whole of Hungerford had been sealed off.

Undeterred, ninety minutes later the vicar left the vicarage once again. He explains: ‘By this time people were con-ting home from work. It was almost as though we were waiting in the High Street for carnival day. I remember that this struck me most forcibly, because by this stage all the people were lining the streets. But it wasn’t a carnival. Many people were terribly worried, not knowing what had happened to their relatives. This was one of the worst aspects of the tragedy, the husbands coming back from work and not knowing about their families. Shopkeepers were coming out bringing people cups of tea. It reminded me so much of the last war: newsflashes coming through, people coming out to their gates and talking. People wanting to share the news.’

Not until 10 o’clock that evening would the determined vicar succeed in getting through to the area of the town which had been affected. Many doctors had likewise been prohibited from entering the killing zone. By now the name of Michael Ryan was on everybody’s lips. And not just in Hungerford, but across the whole country. Yet Ryan was a stranger to St Lawrence’s, and the vicar could only recall nodding to him in the street. In fact, as the Reverend Salt was shortly to discover, Ryan was a stranger to everyone.

The vicar describes his reaction to what he discovered:1 was just blank. All the time just trying to listen to people. At the same time a thousand things were going through my head. I felt numb, but also wanted to survey all the problems and keep an open mind - that is, not go round in circles, or panic. I also felt that though one was quite inadequate, as a vicar people expected you to act, and had faith in you to do the right thing - whatever your qualifications! I also remember thinking at the time that you go to church every morning to say your prayers. That you just keep this prayer machine ticking, so that it makes you ready to deal with a disaster when it happens. This gives you a sort of background of spiritual support. The vicar’s role is finely balanced: you have to develop a hard skin whilst at the same time keeping a soft centre. If you are ever in a hard situation - what I do is to make what I call an arrow prayer - as though you are shooting a quick prayer up to God. This would be in terms of, say, the Psalms. You must get that phrase: ‘Be still, and know that I am God. That’s a good arrow prayer from the Psalms. It is important to remember that God has looked on this situation maybe a million times before. In order to help people you have to be empty, so as to be receptive to what people are saying. Only then can you really think out the problem and try to give whatever help you can. Tragedies do happen all over the world. I know that this is a bad part of life’s diet, but I have to say that it didn’t come as a great shock to me. That’s why, I think, I wasn’t overwhelmed. I felt that there was the work waiting to be done -and that now you just go and get on with it.’

Part of getting on with it, the vicar decided, was to take a measure of responsibility in dealing with the press. Once again, the able minister had had some experience in this role. Not that he had welcomed it at the time. For at Checkendon a person associated with the church had been accused of being a paedophile, and it was not long before the salacious Sunday press, most notably the News of the World, was beating hard at the cleric’s door, eager for a reaction.

It was fortunate, too, that Ron Tarry and the Reverend Salt were already well known to one another, the mayor being a regular churchgoer. Mayor and vicar agreed that if they could deflect the media from hounding the bereaved, if only to a certain extent, that was a role which they could usefully perform. It was to be an allocation of labour which was to serve the town extremely well. The vicar also concluded that his priority was a pastoral one, visiting the injured and bereaved: ‘The most important thing I could do was just be there. Maybe just to hold a hand, or to give a hug.’

What the Reverend Salt was not used to, however, was the notion of murder. Never before had he buried the victims of murder, or counselled those thus bereaved. He was also to be obliged to remind himself repeatedly that each bereaved or injured person was an individual, not a statistic. He knew full well that there would be little point in reminding people that they were not alone.

Quite apart from the work which was about to come his way in the aftermath of the tragedy, the vicar also had to perform his usual duties. Part of this work included ministering to those who had lost loved ones through natural causes. Therefore he also had to remind himself that their loss was as real and personal to them as that of those whose loved ones had been gunned down by Michael Ryan.

It was no surprise, then, that the Reverend Salt got little sleep in the weeks and months that followed the massacre. Yet he did not seem to need it; it was as if he was being carried through by a tidal wave of love and prayer. Nor was there a great deal of time to prepare sermons, even though they were clearly going to be monitored closely by the national press, quite apart from by his superiors. Yet sermons flowed from him with the greatest of ease.

‘I wanted to sleep; the vicar explains, ‘but there seemed so much information in my head that had to be sorted out, and jobs to be done for the following day. It was as *ell that I had kept my spiritual dynamo ticking over. Because when a great surge of power was needed it seemed to be there. And Gods strength was sufficient for me. The congregation of St Lawrence’s was really magnificent, and I quite simply could not have coped without their support. They didn’t have to be asked - they just got on with it. I now realize that we are, all of us, constantly "in training" as Christians. But I never dreamed that I would myself end up in the front line.’


10 ‘Hungerford must be a bit of a mess’

As soon as his pager had sounded, Sergeant Paul Brightwell knew that it was his duty to make immediate contact with Thames Valley Police HQ at Kidlington. So too did other members of the Support Group, who, like Brightwell, had been training at the army firing range at Otmoor. The message was simple enough: the Tactical Firearms Team was now required in Hungerford. But no member of that elite group had any idea of the scale of the slaughter which was being inflicted on the people of that town and which the specialist police unit was now about to witness at the very closest of quarters.

‘All we heard to begin with was that there had been "a shooting incident in Hungerford",’ Sergeant Brightwell recalls. ‘Details were scant, so no particular adrenalin was going - well, no more than usual, that is. You have to remember that a lot of the incidents that we hear about turn out to be false alarms. I immediately set off with two or three other members of my party in one of our unmarked cars, a blue Vauxhall Cavalier, one equipped with a blue light and two-tone horns. On the way down there, lots was going on on the radio. I didn’t want to interrupt, so I was just listening. I then began to get a bit keyed up because we heard that there was someone on the loose shooting people and that at least three people had been killed. And also that a PC had been shot. Then I realized the type of incident I might be going to. All we were lacking was weapons. We had our overalls and body armour with us. The firearms instructors, with whom we had been training, took the weapons, and we were all heading for the same rendezvous point. This was changed, en route, from Newbury to Hungerford police station. But this was still quite some distance to travel.’

It was a Newbury-based policeman, PC Jeremy Wood, who had been the first to radio to activate the system for calling out the armed police. He was normally PC Roger Brereton’s partner, but on this occasion his colleague had left a little before him in a separate car. PC Wood’s car had been the second police car to arrive on Hungerford Common, the officers from the first having taken cover after coming under fire from Ryan. He recalls that he came perilously close to losing his own life: ‘He was firing numerous rounds from the hip at us - and we could hear the bullets passing by.’

Like Roger Brereton, PC Wood was a father of two in his late thirties. It was he, having seen the body of Ken Clements lying in an alleyway, who sounded the alarm and informed his superiors that a major shooting incident was taking place. Together with Robert Clements, whose father had been shot, PC Wood withdrew to a copse across the Common, the nearest safe location. Immediately he set about clearing the area of the many families picnicking there, who, until that moment, had been enjoying the summer sunshine. He then set up a temporary HQ on the Common for the back-up he had requested, established a roadblock and, most crucial of all, continued to call for the police sharpshooters. It was there too that Wood had heard on his radio PC Brereton’s desperate last message: ‘Ten-nine, ten-nine, ten-nine. I’ve been shot’ a few moments before he died.

However, the assistance requested by PC Wood was to be some time in arriving. For while the order to send the Tactical Firearms Team to Hungerford was given at eight minutes past one, it would be another one hour and twelve minutes before the whole team had arrived and was ready to go into action.

But Chief Inspector Glyn Lambert’s specialist squad, then speeding towards Hungerford, was only one part of a two-tiered arms strategy employed by the Thames Valley Police. In fact, for a whole hour, as the Tactical Firearms Team was preparing to confront its biggest-ever challenge, the first-tier response had already been successfully activated. This had involved bringing in officers able to draw weapons from local armouries. In such circumstances their brief is invariably the same: to contain the situation until the arrival of the more specialized teams, which are more highly trained and have the know-how to confront a gunman on the loose.

By 1.18pm the first locally armed officer had arrived in the town. However, he simply went to PC Wood’s rendezvous point on the Common and stayed there, waiting for the helicopter to arrive. A member of the Diplomatic Protection squad, he was more used to looking after VIPs. All the time, though, the chance to contain Ryan was slipping away. At 1.20pm the police had their last sighting of Ryan.

At. 1.28pm a second locally armed officer arrived. He too was from the Diplomatic Protection squad and these officers would in turn be joined by four more from that unit before the arrival of the Tactical Firearms Team. It was fortunate that they had been training only some twenty minutes away, and had thus been able to mobilize rapidly. They did show more than a little hesitation, however, in moving forward in an attempt to find their man. In any event, as members of the Diplomatic Protection squad assembled around the Common, Ryan was all the time moving away from the police, across the playing field. In fact the police were not to see Ryan for another four hours. But this did not mean that the gunman had suddenly become inactive. On the contrary, seeking out another victim, he soon spotted seventy-year-old Betty Tolladay hi her back garden.

‘I heard this banging,’ she recalls. ‘I thought it was children with fireworks or something. A bit early, I know, but they do find all manner of things that make noises. So I went into the garden and said, "for God’s sake, stop that noise - it’s getting me down."’

Unlike Dorothy Smith, who had earlier called Ryan a ‘stupid bugger’ without drawing the gunman’s fire, Betty Tolladay was immediately shot. The bullet entered her groin, exiting via her back and smashing the top of her hip, part of the pelvis and the sciatic nerve en route. At the back of her home in Clarks Gardens, she realized, straight away that she was now battling for her life:

‘I immediately fell to the ground. One leg was absolutely useless. But I sat up and dragged myself to my back door, got over the step somehow, don’t ask me how, and along to the hall, and got the telephone off the table and dialled 999. I’ve only two words to describe what happened: "pure agony .

The emergency services were by now well aware of the scale of the disaster, if not yet of the plight of Betty Tolladay. During the twenty-four hours around the period of the shootings, the Newbury telephone exchange was to handle almost a quarter of a million more calls than its usual daily total, which inevitably hampered both police and ambulance personnel in their work. So when a kindly voice from the ambulance services assured the severely injured Betty Tolladay that ‘Somebody will be along with you soon’, it was no doubt promised in good faith. But ‘soon’ was to be almost five; hours later. The speed and scale of the slaughter had brought with it confusion and chaos.

As Betty Tolladay began her long wait for medical help, Ryan was continuing to claim more victims. Francis Butler, a twenty-six-year-old accounts clerk, was out walking his dog on a path in Hungerfords Memorial Gardens. Hit three times by Ryan’s Kalashnikov, he sustained injuries to his groin and leg. Letting go of the lead, the young man tumed and appeared to slip, holding his leg as he fell. The bullet travelled up through his body, leaving a gaping wound in his back.

Leslie Bean, deputy officer of the Chestnut Walk old people’s home in Hungerford, was the first person to reach hhu. He found Mr Butler’s body on its back and immediately noticed a rifle lying on the ground about fifteen feet away. Working feverishly to stem the flow of blood from the large exit wound, Leslie Bean knew that if he abandoned his impromptu first aid, death would not be long in coming. But then, with Ryan just around the corner, someone shouted out a warning to Mr Bean that if he did not himself now move he might well end up in a similar predicament. That person had not minced his words, bellowing: ‘Get your arse out of here. He is coming back.’

Only then had Leslie Bean fled to safety. By the time the ambulancemen got to Francis Butler he was dead.

This shooting was witnessed by a thirteen-year-old Hungerford schoolboy, Dean Lavisher, from the top of a slide in the recreation ground. Although the boy was himself recovering from a leg operation, he hobbled to a nearby telephone box to call for an ambulance. As he did so, Ryan fired at Andrew Cadle, who had been playing in the recreation ground with Dean. Andrew was not the only one in Hungerford on that Wednesday afternoon to have reason to be grateful for Ryan’s inconsistent marksmanship, for as the gunman fired, the boy pedalled away on his bicycle, mercifully hearing the bullet strike a brick pillar instead of his own young frame. After shooting Francis Butler, his ninth victim, Ryan abandoned his MI carbine in the Memorial Gardens. This did not mean, however, that he was now only lightly armed, for he still had both the Kalashnikov and the Beretta.

‘As soon as we arrived in Hungerford,’ Sergeant Paul Brightwell would later explain, ‘I saw that other parties of the Support Group were there, as well as our equipment. We got kitted up immediately - all on the double - with weapons being issued at the same time. While we were doing this, I was telling members of my group to take various weapons - and at the same time trying to pay attention to detail. Chief Inspector Glyn Lambert, as he then was, was in charge of the Support Group, and he had two inspectors under him. I didn’t see him in Hungerford immediately. While there is a rank structure, it always tends to be looser on such occasions -and it was the obvious thing to do to get kitted up. You have to act on your own initiative, although I wasn’t sure precisely where I was to he deployed.’

The truth was that Sergeant Brightwell’s boss, Chief Inspector Lambert, had no particular strategy firmly fixed in his mind when he had set off from the Kidlington HQ. He was desperate for just one thing: hard facts. But amid the hysteria and chaos, reliable information was to prove very elusive. Because the local communications network had been completely overwhelmed by the volume of ealls, many of the reported sightings of Ryan were wildly inaccurate, completely confused or just simply out of date. By the time the Chief Inspector arrived, however, he concluded that only three of the purported numerous sightings of Ryan could possibly have any credibility and were therefore to be pursued. One was on Hungerford Common, the other in South View and the third alleged sighting at the John O’Gaunt School. All three would have to he investigated and Chief Inspector Lambert divided up his troops accordingly.

‘When we arrived in Hungerford,’ the head of the Support Group would later comment, ‘we of course had to locate and isolate Michael Ryan. But on the way, down, apart from learning about the scale of the killings, I also heard that he had a high-powered rifle - a hell of a lot more powerful than the shotguns I knew were ahead of us. So I knew straight away that containing Ryan was going to be an extremely difficult task, and all the more so because he was moving about. We put on our ballistic helmets, flak jackets and so on. We couldn’t do this inside Hungerford police station, because there simply wasn’t enough room to get in there. So we did it outside on the street instead. And since we didn’t know if he would appear while we were briefing, some of our officers covered us while we were kitting up and everyone was being allocated their specific roles by me. Of course I would like to think that the approach was professional - but one very real difficulty was the confusion of all the reported sightings, not to mention all the people crying and sheltering at the police station. I wanted to get an armoured vehicle, to help us move freely around the streets, and I also wanted to get the helicopter into action as soon as possible, since it is an excellent spotting tool in which I have the very greatest of faith.’

At Hungerford’s swimming pool Carol Hall, an air stewardess who lived locally, sensed that there was danger in the air. She had been talking to her grandmother, who ran a shop at the swimming pool, when she heard several rapid bursts of gunfire. Fearing that the person firing was approaching the pool, she immediately liaised with Michael Palmer, the pool supervisor and David Sparrow, a lifeguard. As the young lifeguard went outside, he saw the body of Francis Butler lying in the Memorial Gardens, with Ryan standing nearby. They immediately called all the swimmers; out of the pool, evacuating some twenty children and several adults to the relative safety of the changing rooms. In due course the three would be commended for their bravery.

As they did so, Marcus Barnard, one of Hungerford’s most popular personalities, was driving in his Peugeot towards Bulpit Lane to pick up a fare. He was known to almost the entire town as Barney the Cabby, and was one of just two drivers serving the community. He had been running his own business for just a few years and, together with his wife Jenny, was still celebrating the birth of his first child, Joe. The boy had not come to the Barnards easily, having taken the best part of six years to arrive. But when, finally, little Joe came into the world, he had done so prematurely. During his wife’s pregnancy Barney had made no secret of the fact that he was hoping for a little girl, but when his son made his early appearance in the world, he was as thrilled as could be, as Jenny Barnard explains:

‘Barney was so proud of the baby. Before he was born I used to pull his leg about changing dirty nappies and so on. He used to say: "You won’t catch me changing a, dirty nappy!’ But he did absolutely everything for that baby. Bathed with him, played with him. He was just so proud.’

As he made his way along Bulpit Lane the thirty-year-old cabby appeared to notice Ryan, by then leaving the Memorial Gardens, and slowed down. Seconds later he was dead, a shot from Ryan’s Kalashnikov having pierced the windscreen and caused a massive injury to the top of his head. Ryan had seen to it that Marcus Barnard was to be a father to baby Joe for just five weeks.

Kenneth Hall, a local government officer, witnessed the taxi-driver’s savage and summary execution: ‘I could not believe what I had just seen. I stopped in my tracks. The man threw the gun to the floor in front of him as if in disgust. He looked down at the gun and shook his head from time to time. He looked bewildered as if he could not believe what he had done. He moved away and then turned round. He still had a pistol. I stopped walking and he looked straight at me. I thought, he only has to take aim and that’s me. As I walked away, he went to pick up the rifle.’

Carol Hall, David Sparrow and Michael Palmer heard the rapid fire of four or five shots from inside the swimming pool. They rushed towards the cabby to give him first aid. But they needed little medical expertise to realize that Marcus Barnard was dead. Jenny Barnard recalls: ‘We had to drive past Barney’s car - and my mum told me not to look. But I went and did the human thing and had to look. There were police photographers there and they had the black bag by the side of the car, and the police made us stop right behind it. And I just wanted to go to him. I think that that one image will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. But what does make me so angry is how the press gave Ryan this Rambo-like image. They portrayed him as a Rambo-type figure and thereby made him a film star. But in fact he was nothing more than a madman.’

Jenny Barnard was right. Whatever his mental state, Michael Ryan was certainly no, film star. On the contrary, he was a loner, going nowhere. But there was undeniably already an uncanny resemblance developing between Ryan’s bloody exploits in Hungerford and those of the violent character Rambo in the film First Blood, starring the American actor Sylvester Stallone. Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, is persecuted by a sheriff and decides to avenge himself on the community. He begins by killing a group of deputies in a forest before attacking a petrol station. Next, Rambo is seen firing automatic weapons in the town itself. At one stage he sets fire to a building in order to lure his enemies, including the sheriff, to a spot where he can fire at them.

The shooting of Sue Godfrey in the Savernake Forest, the attempted murder of Kakoub Dean at the Golden Arrow Service Station on the A4, the fires that raged in South View, murder on the streets of a market town - these might not be the stuff of which Hollywood movies are made, but the similarities are nonetheless striking. Not surprisingly, the newspapers were soon to exploit the ‘Rambo connection’.

As news of Ryan’s rampage spread, hundreds of journalists and photographers descended on the town. The local, national and international press, and television crews galore - before long they were all there, or on their way. Responsibility for liasing with the media fell to Chief Inspector Laurie Fray, the press officer of the Thames Valley Police. He was an experienced policeman, whose approach to working with the press had always been to be as forthright and friendly as circumstances would allow. It was a formula which had served him well.

‘That has always been the way I work; Chief Inspector Fray would later declare. ‘My policy has always been to tell what I know, insofar as it is consistent with good policing. That usually stops any aggression on the part of the press. I know that these people are all under pressure from their editors, so I try to work with them rather than against them. I have always found this the best approach. But Hungerford was in a category all of its own. I shall never forget that day. I was having lunch in the mess at Kidlington. I went into our old control room and monitored the channel. They were feverishly trying to get a response from a traffic vehicle. It turned out to be Roger Brereton’s. Since it was obviously a major incident, I decided to go immediately to Hungerford, blue lights all the way, since I knew there would be a lot of press interest and I had to be able to respond.

‘I arrived there at 2.30pm. I tried to pre-empt press questions, but this was difficult for me because even after briefing myself I didn’t really know all that much. The press were way ahead of us at that time in terms of their communications set-up. They all had cellular phones, for example, but I didn’t. They also had satellite dishes installed on the back of Range Rovers and the like, with which they were able to do live broadcasts. The BBC, ITN, ITV -they all set up incredibly quickly. I told the media people that every half an hour I would return to an agreed rendezvous point to brief and update. And this I did throughout the afternoon.’

The vast majority of journalists cooperated with the press officer. But some did not. One photographer, for example, claimed to be a scene-of-crime officer, and as such was allowed into the house of one of Ryan’s victims. He took several photographs of the body, which was covered in a mackintosh, and the next day his illegally obtained work appeared in the tabloid press. But it was impossible, because of the sheer scale of the slaughter, to protect every single scene of crime. The press was thus able to penetrate the inner cordon without much difficulty. But in so doing not only did they exploit others’ grief, they also exposed themselves to considerable danger. One journalist was so appalled by the activities of certain of her professional colleagues that she registered a formal complaint: ‘No one could or should be asked to stand up to the full battering-ram weight of today’s tabloid press. Hammering at the front door, thirsty for a quote, slobbering for an exclusive, up against a deadline, ready to make meat out of mortals.’

Yet many were asked. And, as Jenny Barnard was soon to discover, the thirst of some journalists would prove to be truly unquenchable. As Barney lay dead in his taxi, Ryan walked to the junction with Priory Avenue, where he shot and slightly injured a woman driving along that road. He was to inflict a far greater injury on John Storms, a washing-machine engineer out on a call but at that time stationary in his van at the junction of Hillside Road. Not a local man, W Storms had been looking for Hungerford Park Farm but had got lost on a housing estate. It was there that he saw Ryan, less than forty feet away, and still armed with his Kalashnikov and his Beretta pistol.

John Storms recalls: ‘I thought, that’s a nice-looking gun. The man then dropped into a crouching position with both legs bent at the knee. He pointed the pistol at me with both hands holding it and at first I thought it was somebody messing about. Then there was a bang, there was broken glass, there was pain and then there was blood.’

As the driver’s door window shattered, John Storms slumped on to the passenger seat. Raising his head slightly above the dashboard, he saw Ryan aiming at him again. There were two further bangs and the van shuddered.

‘I whispered, "Please God, don’t let me die!’ The blood was pouring and I was sure he was going to kill me.’

Whether through divine intervention or Ryan’s poor shot, John Storms did not die. Bob Barclay, a burly builder in his thirties, ran from his nearby house and, before Ryan’s eyes, dragged the injured man, half running, half crouching, back to his garden. Having dialled for the emergency services, he set about stemming the bleeding. While Ryan’s bullet missed John Storms’s spinal cord by just two millimetres, it nonetheless shattered his jaw and burst his tongue, a fragment of the bullet lodging itself near to his larynx.

As the police operation gained momentum, the entire nation waited anxiously to learn of the latest developments taking place in the Berkshire town. The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, holidaying in Cornwall, was kept informed on a special phone line from Downing Street. The Thames Valley Police put into motion the first steps for the creation of a casualty bureau. Appeals for voluntary nurses were broadcast on local radio.

As the killings continued - ten having died so far - Ryan appeared to be firing indiscriminately. His strategy was hardly sophisticated: anyone who happened to come within his range was a potential victim. Alison Chapman, however, already fired at by Ryan, disagrees. ‘It was true that he looked brain-dead when he was firing. But in some ways he must have known what he was doing,’ she would later insist. ‘Because just before he started firing in South View he shouted at all the children playing there to go indoors. And what was really curious was that the two other teenage girls he fired at were shot below the waist, as I was, while he aimed his gun directly at the heads of the older people.’

Second before being rescued from his car John Storms had heard the sound of an approaching car and still more shots. Despite his injury he was sure that this time the bullets were not aimed at him. And in this he was right. They were directed instead at Kathleen and Douglas Wainwright, in Hungerford to visit their son Trevor, one of the town’s local bobbies, and his wife Jane. The Wainwrights had been looking forward to moving to Hungerford for their imminent retirement. They were less than a hundred yards from their destination, having driven from Strood in Kent, when their windscreen was suddenly shattered by two bullets from Ryan’s gun as he stood on the pavement nearby.

‘Automatically my husband put his foot on the brake; Mrs Wainwright would later inform the inquest. ‘As we stopped there was this man right opposite my husband’s window on the pavement. I heard about six or eight shots, one after the other, bang, bang, bang. The gun was pointed at my husband’s window. I heard him groan twice, I looked at him and I knew he was dead. Blood trickled down his nose and out of his mouth and he fell to one side. I knew he was dead. I also knew that I had been hit. I only felt a sting on the breast and my finger and hand though. This chap walked to the front of our car and started reloading his gun. I thought, oh my God, he’s going to fire at me again - but as he was loading he was walking forwards. You might say that self-preservation took over. I took off my seat belt and opened the passenger door as quietly as I could and ran.’

PC Trevor Wainwright was off duty at the time, but as soon as he heard about the shooting incident he drove back to his home town, confident that his local knowledge would be invaluable to the specialist squads called in from outside. As yet he was ignorant of the fact that his father was dead - hit by three shots from the Beretta pistol, twice in the chest and once in the head - and that his mother had survived only by the slenderest of margins.

By a terrible irony, it would later emerge, it was PC Wainwright who had vetted Ryan when the latter wanted to modify his licence to cover the gun he used in the Hungerford massacre. He had called on his neighbour’s home in November 1986 to cheek on his worthiness to hold a firearms certificate and on security arrangements in the house.

Its bloody ironic,’ the policeman would later admit. ‘I would hate to think that I okayed a change in the licence for the gun that killed my father. But I really don’t feel it’s down to me because I didn’t grant the licence - I merely did the cheeks. In fact those cheeks were very thorough. I knew for a fact that Ryan hadn’t been in any serious trouble with the police. I also knew that he was something of a loner, but you can’t hold that against anyone.’

On that occasion Ryan and Wainwright had laughed and joked together. They had done likewise once before, when Ryan had walked into Hungerford police station and announced that he had been caught by the police for exceeding the speed limit.

‘I said: "What speed were, you doing?" and he said: "A hundred and twelve miles per hour!" I said: "Silly sod" and we both had a laugh,’ recalls the policeman.

The then Assistant Chief Constable, now Chief Constable, of Thames Valley Police, Charles Pollard, was in a grave mood that Wednesday, for he knew very well that responsibility for the entire police operation at Hungerford would ultimately fall on him, as he explains: ‘I’ve been involved in big incidents before, so you do develop a way of thinking ahead of what you are going to do. But as I drove down to Hungerford what I wanted above all else was thinking time. Because often when you get to the centre of it all you get caught up with the tide of events and it is difficult to take a step back in order to reflect. No firearm can be issued and drawn by an officer without my personal permission, so I authorized their use before I left Kidlington. The first thing to do is always to set up an excellent communications centre - get set up, get staff in, and so on. Newbury and HQ were also using their control rooms - but my experience is that it’s always better to set up on the spot. The local radio was not working, but the VHF set was. So that was where I decided to set up the operations room. I was in overall charge of the operation, with Chief Inspector Lambert heading up the firearms response - a very experienced officer. I got a competent person to man the radio, with another making a log, and my own driver making a log of everything I did. All the time I was getting information - and trying to make sense of it - but that was not at all easy.’

Assistant Chief Constable Pollard was not the only person hungry for information that afternoon. Ryan’s own relatives were themselves extremely concerned to find out precisely what was happening in Hungerford. They too had been listening to the news. The gunman’s cousin, David Fairbrass, explains: ‘We had heard all about this mad gunman on the loose in Hungerford, and my mother was desperately trying to reach her sister Dorothy on the phone to find out if she and Michael were safe. Then we saw pictures of their burning house on the television and my mother was beside herself with worry.’

Erie Vardy was to be Ryan’s twelfth victim. A carpenter and driver for Norland Nursery College, he had given up his job as a manager of a coach-building company to be closer to his wife Marlyne, who was stricken with cancer. The couple had recently celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, when Erie had presented his wife with a beautiful ring. Mr Vardy was travelling in a white Sherpa minibus with his passenger Steven Ball when they came under fire from Ryan. Immediately before driving up Tarrants Hill, the two men had seen a police car and a crowd near a public house and assumed that there had been a fight there. Oblivious to the danger, they carried on up the High Street in search of an alternative route to their destination, a builders’ supplier.

Steven Ball would later describe how the van’s windscreen was suddenly shattered and Erie Vardy’s body ‘jumped up and slumped’, the vehicle then speeding off out of control before crashing next to a telegraph pole. Erie Vardy had been hit twice, just under the chin and in the side. He was to die later as a result of shock and a haemorrhage caused by the bullet wound to his neck. ‘In my own heart,’ his widow Marlyne would later reveal, ‘I blame the police for having let his vehicle go through and not attempting to stop the traffic, or to warn them that there was a gunman on the loose.’

Nor would Marlyne Vardy be the only person to have cause to complain about the tactics of the Thames Valley Police that afternoon.

Leaving Tarrants Hill, Ryan then walked into Priory Road. It was there that he took aim at Sandra Hill, driving along that road in her red Renault 5. Taking advantage of the sunshine and clearly in good spirits, she had the window down and the car radio on loud. She had decided to take a day off from work in order to visit old friends. In an instant Ryan ensured that that day would be her last, hitting her with a single bullet fired through the open window. Graham Brunsden was one of the first helpers to reach Sandra Hill. He found the twenty-two-year-old with her mouth full of blood and a bullet wound in her chest. After he helped to remove her from the car, she was taken to a nearby doctor’s surgery. She was dead on arrival - Ryan’s thirteenth victim, but by no means his last.

The gunman continued down Priory Road, where he broke into number sixty, a detached house belonging to Myrtle and Victor Gibbs. Mr Gibbs, aged sixty-six and known to everyone as Jack, had a reputation as a cautious man, always going out of his way to ensure that his doors were securely locked. One blast from Ryan’s Kalashnikov removed all pretence of security, and Jack soon found himself face to face in the kitchen with the gunman. Immediately, the pensioner threw himself across his wife’s wheelchair to protect her from a further burst of firing, this time from the Beretta. Jack Gibbs died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, while his wife, already crippled with arthritis, lay critically wounded. The shots were heard by the Gibbs’s next-door neighbour, Mrs Sylvia Dodds, who would later describe her neighbours as ‘a devoted couple wonderfully happy with one another’. In fact they had been sweethearts from their early teens. Their happiness together, which had spanned more than half a century, ended abruptly shortly after one o’clock that Wednesday afternoon when Ryan had burst in through their front door.

From the Gibbs’s home, Ryan then fired at nearby houses, injuring a man at number sixty-two and a woman at number seventy-one. Both were to survive. Ian Playle, however, would not. The thirty-four-year-old was clerk to the Justices at Newbury Magistrates Courts and one of the youngest solicitors in the country to hold such a post. He had come to Hungerford with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two young children, Richard and Sarah, on a shopping trip. They had set off from their home in Newbury in their Ford Sierra before running into a police roadblock at Inkpen Gate. At that Hungerford landmark, Elizabeth Playle had at first not believed that the men standing there were detectives, but her husband soon recognized them as regular visitors to the courtrooms at Newbury. Without seeking or being given a reason for the roadblock, they sought an alternative route into the centre of Hungerford, and drove down Priory Road, rounding a sharp righthand bend.

‘The car started making a whirring sound,’ Elizabeth Playle would later explain, ‘and I turned round to ask Ian what the matter was - and there was blood pouring from his neck - and we crashed into another car.’

One witness, one of the heroes of Hungerford that afternoon, heard from a truck driver that a little further along the road there was a family in trouble.

‘There was a woman in the passenger seat holding some kind of rag into the guy’s neck,’ he remembers. ‘She was screaming, "He’s gone, he’s gone!’ I asked to see the wound. There was no blood coming out and there was no pulse. She was screaming hysterically, "I’m a nurse. He’s gone, he’s gone. Help me. Help me. Ian, please don’t die."’

Elizabeth Playle sat alongside her critically injured husband as she waited for assistance. But he was to die later from a single bullet wound to the neck from the Beretta. Ian Playle was to be the last person to receive fatal injuries at the hands of the crazed gunman of Hungerford.

Quite apart from the burden of coping with her grief, Mrs Playle, like Mrs Vardy, was not at all satisfied with the conduct of the police. She later complained that inadequate information by the police officers who stopped them on Hungerford Common had resulted in her husband entering Hungerford from another direction when, quite clearly, the Playle family should not have been entering the town at all. She would further complain of inadequate assistance from the police in tracing her children, who had become separated from her in the aftermath of the tragedy. These complaints would later be adjudicated upon by the Police Complaints Authority.

However, Mrs Playle’s criticisms of the police were to cut little ice with the West Berkshire coroner, Mr Charles Hoile, who would in due course advise the inquest jury. ‘We, as a nation,’ the coroner declared, ‘cannot have it both ways. We cannot insist on having an unarmed police force and at the same time expect the police force in an emergency of this sort to become armed and be available at the drop of a hat. We have got to pay for the privilege of having the police force which is on our side, not threatening us. It is an important part of our liberty, which most people would be very reluctant to do away with. Aside from the question of the armed officers, the police response was obviously pretty prompt.’

Not prompt enough for George Noon though. Because, as Ryan made his way towards the John O’Gaunt School, he shot and injured Mr Noon as he stood in the garden of his son’s house at 109 Priory Road, wounding the sixty-seven-year-old in the shoulder and eye. As George Noon lay critically injured, ‘however, his son Tim. was being spread-eagled and frisked by police. The armoured Land Rover, summoned earlier by Chief Inspector Lambert, had driven through the hedge and pulled up at the door of the Noon household. Tim, explains: ‘There must have been twenty police with pistols or machine-guns pointing straight at me. My sister Sue came downstairs as they came in and we were both given the once-over and searched. I heard one policeman say, "Shall I put him in handcuffs?" I kept trying to explain that I was not the gunman and that my father had been shot.’

By a little after 1.45pm, the police helicopter had arrived and was circling above the town. It had been delayed fifteen minutes for repairs. On board was a police marksman, although his weapon was just a shotgun - clearly no match for Ryan’s Kalashnikov. The helicopter was therefore obliged to land again, ten minutes later, to pick up a rifle for the marksman as soon as it had been delivered. As the helicopter swooped and searched, Ryan was still heading towards the school.

Three doors away from the Noons, Bert Whatley saw Ryan approach the rear of the school. It was shortly before 2pm. ‘He was walking up the road and turned ‘into the school premises,’ Mr Whatley would later explain. ‘He had his head held down very, very low - you could just see the back of his neck - he didn’t turn round and he was walking very slowly, and he had a handgun in his left hand, heading to the ground, and a rifle over his right shoulder.’

Sergeant Paid Brightwell was now also in action. Chief Inspector Lambert had tasked him, together with his party of police constables, to investigate the school. Neither Lambert nor Brightwell knew at that time that this was indeed the correct location. What Sergeant Brightwell did know, however, was that his handgun, a standard police-issue .38 Smith and Wesson, a six-shot revolver, was not in the same league as Ryan’s semi-automatic rifle.

‘I wasn’t thinking of my family then. I was just thinking one thing: where is he? By now we were very much on our toes. We got called in for a quick briefing by Mr Lambert at Hungerford police station and the name Michael Ryan was given to us. There were lots of people, lots of information. I was given a map - because obviously I didn’t know Hungerford - and headed off towards the school.

Other parties went elsewhere. Heading up his party, Sergeant Brightwell had a handgun, as did all his constables apart from two who had pump-action shotguns.

‘It was simple, in one sense. "Here’s a map. You’re here. The school’s there. Now off you go." We deployed on foot, very slowly, stalking either side of the road. You are looking around you all the time. We just didn’t know where this bloke was. I was in the middle of the party, trying to listen to the radio, and relying upon my blokes to keep their eyes open. He could have been anywhere. I had to concentrate on the map and the radio. We walked slowly. It must have taken us an hour. At one point we got held up at Bulpit Lane. One of MY PCs sighted someone in a house in a camouflage jacket. Since this partly fitted. the description of the suspect it obviously couldn’t be ignored. But that person was eliminated and on we went. I just kept on thinking that I had to get to that school.’

During that bloody afternoon, shots were heard coming from South View. It would later emerge that ‘this was part of Ryan’s arsenal exploding, ignited by the flames. But since it could have been the gunman it had to be investigated. And then other sightings would be reported. As Sergeant Brightwell’s party advanced, people would pop up from their gardens and out of windows, giving their views on where the gunman had headed. But much of the information continued to be either inaccurate or out of date, or in some cases, both.

‘We then found poor old George Noon,’ Sergeant Brightwell would later report. ‘He had been shot in the head. People were comforting him. We tried to get him out because he was in a bad way. I spoke to Mr Lambert about getting him out, but he decided that it was too risky to send any ambulances in until we knew where Ryan was. As we continued to advance, though, I had a hunch that we might well be on the right track.’

Shadowing the Tactical Firearms Team as they went about their task were certain members of the press corps, jeopardizing their own lives and indeed the entire police operation. On more than one occasion Sergeant Brightwell had to forcibly evict them from the area,

‘We finally arrived at the school. But we still didn’t know that he was there. My job was to contain the front and sides of the school as best I could, knowing that there was another party covering the back of the school. But there was a vast open expanse around the school, so that containment was not easy. 1,was reporting to Mr Lambert, but I knew he was getting so much information, I just told him that we had arrived and were OK. He sent down one of his inspectors to see how our containment was. All the time, the helicopter was around and about.’

Chief Inspector Lambert had based himself in a Portakabin outside Hungerford police station, and from there established his firearms control, maintaining radio contact with each team as they went about their allotted tasks. But as the minutes became hours, he grew extremely concerned that there was still no definitive sighting of Ryan.

‘I kept thinking,’ the Chief Inspector would later recall, ‘why the hell haven’t we found him yet? Why the hell hasn’t the hell spotted him? If he was moving about, as many of the reports would have had us believe, then it was almost certain that he would have been seen by the helicopter. Once the two other teams had dealt with their enquiries, I sent them off to join Sergeant Brightwell’s party at the school. Altogether they had had to cheek out eight erroneous reports. Many had been panic-stricken; one even turned out to be a car backfiring.’

At 5.26pm Ryan was spotted at a window of the school. Immediately Hungerford was declared safe for the waiting ambulances, although some earlier rescue work had been carried out by the armoured Land Rovers. It had taken the police four and three-quarter hours to pinpoint Ryan after they had first received notice Of him.

‘I think that that must have been the biggest feeling of relief that I have ever experienced,’ Chief Inspector Lambert explains. ‘Because once I had made sure that the containment of the school was absolutely tight, I then knew full well that he wasn’t going to be going anywhere.’

For the next ninety minutes or so, Ryan and Sergeant Brightwell were to have a long and detailed conversation. From the point of view of the police, these protracted negotiations had just one objective: Ryan’s surrender.

‘Hungerford must be a bit of a mess,’ the gunman shouted.



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