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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


11 Emergency

Shortly before two o’clock that afternoon nursing sister June Fawcett walked into the waiting room of the Accident and Emergency department of Swindon’s Princess. Margaret Hospital. Less than ten minutes later the waiting room had been cleared. The reason for the hasty evacuation was quite simple: having been alerted to Ryan’s rampage through Hungerford, the department was to receive four casualties within the next few minutes. And with Berkshire’s ambulance service warning that there were many more to follow, the nurse was well aware that there would be no time to deal with the more familiar workload of cuts, bruises, fractures and sprains.

Situated some fifteen miles from Hungerford, the Princess Margaret was the nearest hospital with an Accident and Emergency department equipped to cope with the situation. Although the Princess Margaret, Swindon’s district hospital, had 400 beds, the department was then able to take only fourteen stretcher patients. It consisted of a resuscitation room, two minor operating theatres and a number of cubicles. Attached to it was an eleven-bed observation ward, manned by Accident and Emergency department personnel.

Although some nurses had experience of shotgun wounds, none had experience of those caused by the high-velocity bullets of a semi-automatic rifle. Staff were shortly to discover that whereas a shotgun causes a peppering effect, the damage caused by the bullet of a Kalashnikov is more likely to lead to extensive internal damage and in many cases to large exit wounds.

The massacre had begun during the hospital’s afternoon shift overlap, which meant that a few more staff were on hand than might otherwise have been the case. Soon the two nursing sisters, three staff nurses, four enrolled nurses and seven third-year student nurses were to face what must surely be the ultimate test for any Accident and Emergency unit anywhere: to provide a medical response to widespread and gratuitous slaughter. Medical personnel already present at the department that afternoon consisted of a senior house officer, a local GP working as a clinical assistant and a student of medicine. They too were to be put through their paces.

In fact the hospital’s service manager was already in action, informing the X-ray department, alerting the blood bank and, anticipating the grim outcome of Ryan’s rampage, contacting the hospitals chaplain. As appeals went out for extra doctors and support staff to report for duty, routine admissions were cancelled. It was imperative that there should be sufficient beds to accommodate the injured. Before long, the hospital was buzzing with an atmosphere of busy efficiency.

June Faweett’s diary notes:

‘14.15. An unconscious fifty-two-year-old male with a gunshot wound to the neck arrives and is taken straight into the resuscitation room.

‘14.19. Another call from ambulance control; two more casualties with serious gunshot wounds are on the way.

‘14.20. The casualties with gunshot wounds arrive; a thirty-seven-year-old male with an injury to his left upper arm, a sixty-two-year-old female with injuries to her left hand and right side of chest, and a forty-nine-year-old male wounded in the throat and lower mandible. All are able to walk into the department. Quickly assessing them, I allocate nurses to initiate their care and treatment. The man with facial injuries requires the attention of the facio-maxiliary team, who are immediately summoned.’

And so it was to continue throughout that afternoon and early evening, as Ryan’s victims eventually arrived at the Princess Margaret, some having waited a considerable time.

One young man in Hungerford that afternoon was not prepared to stand idly by waiting for the arrival of the emergency services. For Lance-Corporal Carl Harries, a veteran of the Falklands War despite his twenty-one years of age, was a man of action. For almost an hour and a half the off-duty soldier, at that time serving with the Royal Engineers at Maidstone in Kent, was to repeatedly risk his life feverishly running around the town tending to one victim after another.

‘I was walking into town to pick up a radiator hose; the soldier would later recall, ‘when I heard gunshots. I thought someone was just messing around. Then suddenly I saw this guy standing in front of me, dressed in US-style combat gear and headband, looking like Rambo. He had a pistol in his hand and an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. I dived through a hedge and stayed low for one or two minutes. But as I scrambled out I heard rapid gunfire.’

The gunfire heard by Harries was directed at Sandra Hill, who was driving into Hungerford on her day off from work.

‘I saw this car, engine running, radio blaring, still moving slowly along the road. There was a bullet hole in the windscreen and a young woman slumped at the wheel. She tried to speak, but her mouth and throat were full of blood. I tried desperately to clear her mouth, but it was useless - I knew she was dying.’

His hands still covered in blood, Harries was then alerted to the fact that a man had been shot through the neck in a Ford Sierra. It was Ian Playle, the clerk to the Justices at Newbury Magistrates Courts, seeking a way into Hungerford.

‘I tried mouth-to-mouth and chest compresses and he started breathing again. His pulse came back, but then the blood started pumping out of his neck. Then I heard a noise from a house across the road. I looked through the letter-box and saw a man cowering behind the door. He had been shot in the knee. He told me that he was OK, but that there had been another shooting next door. I ran over and found that the lock had been blown off the door and the glass partition kicked in. Mrs Gibbs, who lived there, must have heard the crunch of glass under my feet and called for help. There was blood everywhere. She was screaming by her husband’s side. I could tell he was already dead: his eyes were fixed in a death stare.’

While the courageous soldier was in search of victims to see what assistance he might be able to render, his father, Peter Harries, was looking for his son, having heard that he had been trailing the gunman was frantic, ‘Peter Harries would later admit. ‘I thought, Christ, he could be killed. I have to come to terms with that - he’s a soldier. But abroad, yes; in your home town in Berkshire, no. When I eventually caught up with him he was crying. I just broke up too.’

Lance-Corporal Harries would later receive the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. For a little over ninety minutes he had cradled the dying and heard their last words. He comforted the wounded and covered up those for whom there could be no help. Or, as the Queen’s citation would put it: ‘Without consideration for his own safety Lance-Corporal Harries continued to render first aid to the injured and dying both in the street and in their houses and to organise members of the public in this task.’

The doctors and nurses of the Princess Margaret Hospital had been trained to control their emotions. Not that they were in any sense immune to the enormity of the tragedy in which they had become key players. It was just that their training had taught them otherwise. Before long a consultant anaesthetist from the intensive care unit had arrived, an incident room had been set up in the department manned by both police and the hospital’s administrative staff, and inevitably the coroner’s officer had made contact too.

Among those to visit the injured at the hospital was the Reverend David Salt. Aware that it was his responsibility to comfort the bereaved and to offer support, he had himself been praying for extra strength.

‘I have to say that my visit to the hospital at Swindon was a unique experience,’ he explains. ‘You would have thought that they had just had a ward party; there were balloons everywhere. They were almost. on a high, I would say. It was perhaps because of all the media attention, although I couldn’t be sure. Often that can help because it can make you feel that you are not alone. What I do know, though, is there was very much a feeling of thankfulness that they were alive. There was a tremendous camaraderie on that ward. There was no wailing. Even by the poor lady who had lost her husband, Mrs Wainwright. I came with the heavy task of comforting these people, but their calmness and fortitude were quite unexpected.’

At 4pm the RAF hospital at nearby Wroughton made contact with the Accident and Emergency department of the Princess Margaret, informing staff there that it was in a position to take the next two serious and six minor casualties. It was a generous offer, designed to relieve the pressure building up at the Swindon hospital, and it was gratefully accepted. Betty Tolladay, the elderly lady who had been shot after rebuking Ryan about the noise he had been making, finally found her way there. Of all those injured in the massacre, it was Betty Tolladay who had been the most closely involved in David Salt’s congregation at St Lawrence’s. One of those seriously injured, she was now to face a series of operations.

In Hungerford, medical staff from the town’s surgery treated the injured who had been brought there, while doctors went out with police in a series of search-and-rescue missions, some of them then accompanying the wounded on their journey to the Princess Margaret Hospital. Meanwhile, in Newbury, news of the incident was reaching the divisional social services offices. Immediately, the Director of Social Services was informed, as were the county’s Emergency Planning Officer and the press officer at Shire Hall, Reading. The bureaucratic machinery, used to proceeding at a more leisurely pace, nonetheless swung into action at once, the Housing Department of Newbury District Council soon standing by to accommodate those made homeless as a result of Ryan’s razing of part of South View.

Hazel Haslett, the ambulancewoman who had braved Ryan’s hail of bullets to rescue the injured, was herself treated at the Princess Margaret that afternoon, having been showered with glass from her ambulance windscreen and receiving leg and arm injuries. She and Linda Bright, the driver, would later be commended for their bravery, for, putting. their own suffering to one side, they would continue to work late into the night.

While Haslett and Bright ferried the injured to safety, eight surgeons were operating on twelve patients. But although the hospital’s assistant general manager, Paul Vandendale, was eventually able to confirm that the progress of the majority of his patients was ‘satisfactory’, Myrtle Gibbs, Ian Playle and George Noon all remained in critical condition in intensive care. At the Accident and Emergency department, there was consequently a continuous updating of information, as orthopaedic consultants and registrars liaised with anaesthetists to discuss the progress and prospects of this patient or that.

Twenty-five miles from Hungerford, in Calne, Wiltshire, the unease in the Fairbrass household had by now reached breaking point. Michael Ryan’s relatives were still desperate to find out if he and his mother had survived the massacre. Then, suddenly, the BBC’s mid-evening news bulletin put them in the picture. It was not at all what they had been expecting to hear.

‘All the time my mother was extremely worried,’ Ryan’s cousin, David Fairbrass, would later recall. ‘Because my mother and her sister Dorothy were extremely close. Then, on the Nine O’Clock News, they named Michael as the killer. We were stunned. There was total disbelief. Who could accept such a thing.

The Drinkwater family, then holidaying in France, were shortly to be stunned too. Linda and Kevin Drinkwater, together with their two young children, had left for a touring holiday in France on Tuesday 18 August, the day before Michael Ryan was to change the character of the town of Hungerford for aft time. Their home in South View, recently purchased from the council, was one of the row of four cottages he set on fire. French police had been informed of the particulars of the Drinkwaters’ vehicle so that they could be alerted to the tragedy, but to no avail. Linda Drinkwater explains: ‘We didn’t know anything about it until we got onto the ferry and we read it, in the newspaper. Just at the bottom of one article it said that we were on holiday - something like "they were on holiday in France and are unaware that their house has burnt down". When we eventually did make it back home, all that was left was the video in the living-room.’

. After recovering from the initial shock of losing his home, along with his business van parked outside, Kevin Drinkwater was soon able to put the family’s loss in perspective: ‘We were in the luckiest place - as far away from Hungerford as possible. Had we been here, anything could have happened. I could have been going to my wife’s funeral. Anything. Somebody was looking over us that week, thats for definite. Because we still have our children. Everything we have lost can be replaced. The dead cannot.’

Although staff at the Princess Margaret Hospital were acting speedily and professionally, the massacre was not sufficiently severe, according to the hospital’s own rules and regulations, to be designated a major incident. The district plan had defined a major incident as one involving twenty or more stretcher cases. Senior hospital nurse Anne Eggleton, in charge of the emergency unit on the day of the tragedy, was well aware that if ever anything constituted a major incident, it was Ryan’s slaughter of the innocent in Hungerford. But she also knew that rules were rules, drafted by wise committees whose members had ostensibly considered these things. In any event, Anne Eggleton had other worries on her mind than juggling with statistics. Aware that ambulance personnel had come under fire, she was worried that her own husband might be among the injured: ‘My husband Stephen was on duty at Hungerford that day and I realized what was going on. I had no contact with him until he came home late at night.’

Nonetheless the atmosphere within Anne Eggleton’s department, although tense, continued to be based on excellent rapport between the staff, and a first-class team spirit pervaded the entire unit. Every now and then, there would be the odd humorous exchange. To the outsider, these might have sounded callous and uncaring. But among the nurses and doctors working at the hospital they served a useful role, providing an outlet for anxiety and tension. It was not until seven o’clock that evening that ambulance control was finally able to report that no more casualties would be sent to the Princess Margaret. The immediate pressure was over. And the Accident and Emergency department had passed its most rigorous test with flying colours.

Over the next few days there was to be both good news and bad at the Princess Margaret Hospital. Usa Mildenhall, for example, Ryan’s youngest victim, was making a rapid recovery and soon found herself able to celebrate a family birthday in hospital. Mrs Myrtle Gibbs, on the other hand, was never to regain consciousness. Ever since her admission, she had only been able to breathe with the assistance of a life-support machine. One of her four sons, then serving with the RAF in Denmark, was flown to the hospital by helicopter and was with her when she died. Another son was being flown back from overseas when news of his mother’s death was broken to him in mid-flight. The neighbours were unanimous in their judgement: Mrs Gibbs would not have wanted to live without her husband, who had died courageously trying to save her.

A few hours after Mrs Gibbs’s death, staff at Ian Playle’s office in the Magistrates Courts in Newbury broke down and wept on being informed that Ian, who had been transferred to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, had also died. He was Ryan’s sixteenth and final fatality.

Mr Charles Hoile, the West Berkshire coroner, would later pay tribute to the heroism and courage of the people of Hungerford. What had happened, he would inform the inquest jury, was absolutely unprecedented not just in one remote corner of Berkshire but in the whole of Britain ‘It is a matter,’ he would declare ‘which has held the whole nation in horrified fascination.’

And at no time was this horror and fascination more intense than when the news media reported that Ryan had disappeared into the John O’Gaunt School, where he had been a pupil a little over a decade earlier. For a few hours, there had been no more shootings in Hungerford, and an eerie silence had descended over the town. The sound of gunfire had ceased, the smell of cordite had begun to fade. But the gunman, it seemed, now had something to say.


12 ‘I killed all those people’

The John O’Gaunt School, Hungerford’s uninspiring redbrick comprehensive, offered from its third storey a wide, unrestricted view of the town. It was there that Ryan had chosen to position himself. Fortunately, the school was closed, its pupils away for the long summer holidays. The caretaker, however, was in his bungalow beside the school, with his two children. A phone call from his wife from her place of work had warned him of the shootings.

‘The next thing I knew,’ John Miles would later explain, ‘two terrified kids came riding up the road on bicycles shouting, "There’s a man with a gun."’ Rushing out to alert some workmen outside the school bungalow, Mr Miles had noticed a man in army fatigues walking up the drive. It was Ryan. ‘My kids and I crouched behind the bushes with the workmen. We could see him but he could not see us.’

Unlike Bert Whatley, who had earlier dialled 999 to inform the police that Ryan was at the school - only to find the telephone exchange overwhelmed with calls - John Miles managed to get through on his third attempt. Since he was himself a former policeman, the Thames Valley Police immediately treated his information extremely seriously. Nonetheless, there remained a number of other reported sightings to be investigated and it would clearly have been reckless of the police to have suddenly abandoned these. Unfortunately, one consequence of this combination of caution and confusion was that some ninety minutes were to elapse before the caretaker would finally see the police arriving at the school.

The police operation was to be hindered that afternoon by other factors too, notably the presence over Hungerford of a number of press helicopters. Their noise made searching for the gunman all the more difficult and hazardous. Some airborne television crews, desperate for the right footage, even had the nerve to ask the police helicopter to get out of the way. Ryan,’ however, made no distinction between them, repeatedly firing at police and press helicopters alike. The Thames Valley Police eventually dealt with the airborne press corps by seeking and obtaining a flying restriction from the Civil Aviation Authority. Although normal procedural corners were cut, this curb nonetheless took some time to obtain. Thus it was fortunate for the people of Hungerford that by this stage Ryan was, as radio and television were reporting in their live broadcasts, ‘holed up’ at the John O’Gaunt School.

Shortly before 5pm shots were heard from the school’s vicinity. Shortly after the hour another shot was heard. This time there could be no doubt: it had unquestionably come from the school. Then, a few minutes later, conclusive evidence of Ryan’s presence in the school, for at 5.25pm, he threw his Kalashnikov out of a third-floor window. It was the weapon with which he had killed eight people and fired eighty-four bullets. Seconds later he was seen in a classroom. But what the police did not know at that time was that Ryan was wearing a bullet-resistant waistcoat which would have protected him against all but the most powerful of police weaponry.

‘There had been a bit of an impasse,’ Sergeant Brightwell would later recall. ‘So the next move was when we heard that single shot. Maybe he was trying to attract attention to himself, I don't know. I ran through the back gardens and went crashing over some fences to get nearer to the officer, PC Anthony Bates, who gave the report. I then saw the rifle on the pavement outside the school; it had come crashing onto the ground. One of my PCs had called out to him to make contact. He said: "You are surrounded by armed police. Do as you are told and no harm will come to you!’ But we couldn’t hear the reply. Still, at least we knew he was there - up on the top floor of the school. Together with the PC, I ran across the pavement to the corner of the building - and then made contact with Michael Ryan, who was in one of the classrooms. I was reporting back to Mr Lambert, my boss, but you really do have to be able to act on your own initiative in such a situation. So it was me who ended up speaking to Michael Ryan. Not because I was brave in any way -just because I happened to get there first. I had plenty of back-up. Afterwards, I had to write up the conversation. I wrote it up as best as I could recall. But it wasn’t word-perfect.’

Brightwell and Ryan’s conversation, which was to last almost an hour and a half, began when the gunman finally confirmed that he had heard the police message that he was surrounded. But the exchange hardly seemed to get off to a promising start.

SERGEANT: What is your first name, Mr Ryan?

RYAN: It is nothing to do with you. Mind your own business.

SERGEANT: That’s OK. I just want to talk to you and get you out safely. Do you understand?

RYAN: Yes, I’ve nothing against you.

SERGEANT: What weapons do you have with you?

RYAN: One 9mm pistol and ammunition.

SERGEANT: Mr Ryan, this is very important. Do not come to the window holding any weapons. Do you understand?

RYAN: I understand. I also have a grenade.

SERGEANT: Do not come to the window with the grenade. Do you understand?

RYAN: Yes.

SERGEANT: What type of grenade is it?

RYAN: Israeli fragmentation type.

SERGEANT: I want to get you out of the building safely.

RYAN: Yes.

SERGEANT: It is important that you do not come to the window with any weapon. Do you understand?

RYAN: Yes.

‘It was a bit of a relief when I was immediately answered,’ Sergeant Brightwell would later reveal. ‘He was actually easy to talk to. The whole enormity of what he had done didn’t dawn upon me at the time. I had met George Noon on the way down though, and seen Douglas Wainwright slumped over his car - so I knew what he had done all right. I just wanted to keep him talking - to get him out of the building, as you can see from my report. I didn’t want him to be shot. That’s the training. Although I’m not a proper police negotiator, we do learn how to negotiate with someone in a building as part of our overall tactical training. I was nervous but not shaking. So at this stage I switched my radio off, in order to be able to concentrate more effectively. Another PC with me was in radio contact and reporting back all the time to Mr Lambert.’

Chief Inspector Lambert, leading the Support Group, had by now moved out of his Portakabin outside Hungerford police station and headed towards the school. Accompanying him on this short journey was a trained police negotiator, expert in psychological tactics and techniques, who had been standing by for some time. But Lambert was soon satisfied that the dialogue between Sergeant Brightwell and Ryan was going well. It was his judgement that no useful purpose could be served by a sudden change of personnel. In fact he was more worried about Ryan’s claim to have a grenade, so he ordered additional police armoury to cover the window of the classroom where the gunman had been seen. As the Chief Inspector continued to monitor the dialogue, he became convinced that Ryan was going to give himself UP.

Just as the head of the Support Group was happy for Sergeant Brightwell to proceed with the negotiations, so the Assistant Chief Constable, Charles Pollard, was content to follow the judgement of his firearms adviser.

‘While I was in overall charge of the police operation, you do have to be able to delegate,’ Charles Pollard would later insist. ‘So I let Paul Brightwell get on with it via Glyn Lambert. Because once I knew that we had the school contained, it became, in some respects, a routine policing matter. We now had the situation under control. It was at this stage that I too went down to the school.’

‘Although the conversation went on for well over an hour,’ Sergeant Brightwell would later explain, ‘it seemed more like five minutes. All the time he was both lucid and calm. There were the odd gaps in the dialogue, but other than that it was almost continuous. On several occasions I really did think that he was going to make a move and come out. I knew precisely how I wanted him to come out, because of the training. But he did keep on asking about his mother.’

Altogether, Ryan would ask the Sergeant about the plight of his mother, Dorothy, well over a dozen times. Indeed it was the central theme of their conversation.

RYAN: I want to know how my mother is. Tell me about my mother.

SERGEANT: I will try to find out about your mother. Just bear with me.

RYAN: I must know about my mother.

SERGEANT: Mr Ryan, do you have any other weapons?

RYAN: I’ve got a.32 CZ pistol but that is in for repair. I must know about my mother. Tell me. I will throw the grenade out of the window.

SERGEANT: Don’t do that. I’m trying to find out.

RYAN: That is ridiculous. You must know. I want to know.

SERGEANT: Mr Ryan, when I tell you to, I want you to stand up and look out of the widow to the front of the school.

RYAN: What for?

SERGEANT: If you stand up, we will know what door you are coming out of.

RYAN: I’m not standing up, Have you found out about my mother yet?

SERGEANT: Not yet, I’m still trying.

RYAN: I’m not coming out until I know.

‘As you can see; Sergeant Brightwell would later explain, ‘he kept on asking about his mother. But I can tell you that she was as dead as a doornail. It seemed to me that by asking about her continuously he was almost trying to let himself off of the hook in some way.

The conversation continued.

SERGEANT: I want you to leave all your weapons in that room. Do you understand?

RYAN: Yes. My pistol is tied to my wrist with a lanyard. I have one round of ammunition.

SERGEANT: Can you undo the lanyard?


‘I must say that I was perplexed by this man,’ Ryan’s interlocutor would later admit ‘I just wanted him to do as I was telling him. I still thought that I was going to get him out. It seemed to me as if he wanted to come out. I was shouting because of the distance between us. A couple of times I had to ask him to speak up. But what he said about the gun being tied to his wrist with a lanyard worried me. Because I knew that if he did come out he could easily have been shot, had the gun been misinterpreted, for example. But he still seemed to be happy to talk. He asked about my rank and so on. So we carried on talking.’

SERGEANT: It is important that you come out with no weapons.

RYAN: I had an M1 carbine which I left in the park. It was on a gravel path near the body of a mate I shot near the swimming pool. There should be a thirty-round magazine with it.

SERGEANT: Thank you for that, Mr Ryan.

RYAN: Also, there is my dog. Has anybody found that? It is a black labrador. I shot it. I had my eyes shut the first time and I just winged it. I have undone the lanyard. I also have body armour.

SERGEANT: Thank you. Will you come out?

RYAN: I am not coming out until I know about my mother.

SERGEANT: I am trying to find out. But I want you to come out leaving all your weapons in the room.

RYAN: Where shall I leave them - on the window-sill?

SERGEANT: Don’t come to the window holding any weapon. Just leave them on the floor. Do you understand?

RYAN: Yes.

SERGEANT: Just leave all your weapons in the room and come out.

RYAN: I will come down the stairs outside.

SERGEANT: The stairs with the rifle out in front?

RYAN: Yes, those stairs.

SERGEANT: When you come outside look to the left and you will see me. Do not make any move towards the rifle. I want you to leave your body armour in the room as well, Mr Ryan.

RYA N: Why’s that?

SERGEANT: I need to be able to see you have nothing concealed, that you understand my position.

RYAN: Yes, I understand. I am not going to come out until I know about my mother.

SERGEANT: I am doing my best, Mr Ryan. I am still trying to find out about your mother. If you come out, we will be able to sort it out much quicker.

Sergeant Brightwell later explained: ‘All the time I was trying to play down what he had done. To give him the impression that we could sort everything out - that I was a sort of friend who he could talk to - even though it was obvious that the bloke was completely nuts and needed locking away for the rest of his life. So when he asked about the casualty figures, I again tried to talk the whole thing down.’

RYAN: What are the casualty figures?

SERGEANT: I don’t know. Obviously you know you shot a lot of people.

RYAN: Hungerford must be a bit of a mess.

SERGEANT: You are right. They know you have been through. Do you know how many you have shot?

RYAN: I don’t know. Its like a bad dream.

SERGEANT: It has happened. The sooner you come out, the easier it will be to sort out.

RYAN: I know it’s happened. I’m not stupid.

SERGEANT: I know that, mate.

RYAN: How’s my mother? She’s dead, isn’t she? That’s why you will not tell me. I am throwing the magazine of the pistol out. I still have one round left, though.

SERGEANT: Why do you have that?

RYAN: It is obvious, isn’t it?

SERGEANT: I want to get you out safely. Don’t do anything silly.

RYAN: Don’t worry. I have nothing against you. You have got your job to do.

That afternoon there was another man in Hungerford with a job to do. Sergeant David Warwick, a senior firearms instructor in the Support Group, had Michael Ryan in his telescopic gun sight for a full minute. And yet he chose not to pull the trigger.

‘If I had fired,’ he comments, ‘then I would have been a murderer. I would have been no better than him. He was unlikely to shoot anybody else. Nor was he any longer a threat to the police or the public. It was also extremely unlikely that he was going to abscond or commit other offences. You have got to have the justification before shooting someone and the justification wasn’t there.’

Unaware that Sergeant Warwick’s gun had been trained on him, albeit from outside the school, Ryan continued to ask about his mother.

RYAN: You must have a radio. Get on that and find out. How many people are with you?

SERGEANT: Just a couple.

RYAN: Well, get them to do it. Have you found the M1 carbine yet?

SERGEANT: They are still looking, Mr Ryan. I have passed on all the details.

RYAN: It is just that there were some kids nearby. I don’t want them to find it. And what about my dog? Have you found it? Was it on the Common?

SERGEANT: Is it important?

RYAN: Yes.

SERGEANT: It is at Hungerford police station.

RYAN: Will you look after it?

SERGEANT: Of course we will.

RYAN: Will you give it a decent burial?

SERGEANT: Yes, Mr Ryan. If you come out, you can see the dog yourself.

RYAN: What about my mother? She is dead. I know she is dead. Have you found her yet?

SERGEANT: I am still waiting, Mr Ryan.

RYAN: I have picked up my gun again.

SERGEANT: Don’t do that, Mr Ryan. If you come out I will find out. All you have to do is walk slowly down the stairs with your hands in the air. Have you seen anybody in the school?

R YAN: No. I am on my own. I haven’t any hostages. What time is it?

SERGEANT: It is 6.24.

RYAN: If only the police car hadn’t turned up. If only my car had started.

SERGEANT: Will you come out now please, Mr Ryan?

RYAN: I want to think about it. Why won’t you tell me about my mother?

SERGEANT: I don’t know. As soon as you come out, we’ll find out together.

RYAN: I won’t come out until I know. I did not mean to kill her. It was a mistake.

SERGEANT: I understand that, mate.

RYAN: How can you understand? I wish I had stayed in bed.

SERGEANT: Mr Ryan, just come down. Leave all your weapons in the room and come down.

Within the sixty seconds that Sergeant Warwick’s gun was trained on Ryan, the gunman appeared at the window, apparently unarmed. Warwick wondered if it was perhaps Ryan’s way of asking the police to bring about the end. But still the police marksman refused to shoot. The senior firearms instructor knew very well that if Ryan had appeared at the window with a grenade, or anything remotely resembling a grenade, or indeed if he was holding a hostage, then the police response would have been totally different. But neither of these scenarios materialized.

‘All the talk was that he was going to give himself up,’ Sergeant Warwick would later explain. ‘He was in an empty school, having thrown one weapon out of the window - and I can tell you he wasn’t going anywhere. Pulling the trigger would therefore have been entirely the wrong decision.’

Still unaware that his life had been spared by the highest standards of professional policing on the part of Sergeant Warwick, Ryan began to dwell on the consequences of giving himself up. He asked if he could be taken to London.

RYAN: Will I be treated OK?

SERGEANT: Of course you will, Mr Ryan.

RYAN: Will I go to prison for a long time?

SERGEANT: I don’t know, Mr Ryan. It is not up to me.

RYAN: You must have an idea. I will get life, won’t l?

SERGEANT: I don’t know, Mr Ryan. You will go to prison for a long time.

RYAN: It’s funny. I killed all those people but I haven’t got the guts to blow my own brains out.

SERGEANT: Mr Ryan, just leave all your weapons in the room and do exactly as you are told. Don’t do anything silly. Do you understand?

RYAN: What time is it?

SERGEANT: Six-forty-five. What do you want to know the time for?

RYAN: I want to think about it. I am not coming out until I know about my mother.

SERGEANT: Mr Ryan, I am still trying to find out. If you comedown we will be able to find out together.

There followed several minutes during which time Michael Ryan did not speak. And then, at 6.52pm, Sergeant Brightwell heard a single, muffled shot from the classroom. The gunman, who had not expressed the slightest remorse for any one of his victims, was not to speak again.

‘But that was by no means the end of the matter from our point of view,’ Chief Inspector Lambert would later point out. ‘Had he shot the wall? Would we all get shot if we went in there? I kept an open mind and was determined not to rush it. But I did want to finish it before dark, only a couple of hours away. I thought that there could be a booby trap. We flew a helicopter past the window -but they couldn’t see in. Then someone got up onto the roof. We had a dog in front of us. These are the Tactical Firearms dogs who are used to training with us. So the dog went in first for us to see what the reaction would be. If there was a person in the room the dog would have reacted. The person on the roof was using mirrors on a long pole, and he saw Ryan, who appeared to be dead. I knew that we were almost home. People then went in and saw that he was indeed dead. We then used a technique to make sure that he was not wired for explosives before we touched him - and an explosives officer took over at this point. So the body was tied up and wired up and moved to make sure that there was no booby trap. Then I went into the classroom myself and saw him. My reaction was just one of relief. That it was over.’

When members of the Tactical Firearms Team entered the classroom, they found Ryan’s body slumped in a corner on the floor near a window. His back was against the wall and his 9mm Beretta pistol, hammer still cocked, remained clasped in his right hand, tied to his wrist by a bootlace. A Home Office pathologist would later confirm that Ryan had died from a single gunshot wound to the head. It had passed through his skull, shattering his brain. The bullet wound was 0.7cm at the point of entry and the skin around it blackened and as if tattooed. The bullet had fractured the skull extensively, and its heat had singed the gunman’s hair.

‘I went in with some others,’ Sergeant Brightwell recalls. ‘The doors were barricaded. And there he was, sitting beneath the window, dead. I thought, Oh - so that’s who I’ve been talking to. I didn’t feel sorry for him. I thought that’s more than he would have got if he would have come out. It’s probably as close as you could have got to justice, if you like. It wasn’t a case of brains being splattered everywhere, as you might think. But there was blood all over his face and up the wall. When it was all over I got back to the police station and phoned home. My wife, Sandy, knows not to expect me on time, and she would have known that I would have been involved. Still, she was mightily relieved to hear from me. It was midnight when I got home. The kids were in bed. You just try to play it down a bit. I’m not the hero of Hungerford. Its just that I ended up speaking to him. I was just doing the job I was trained to do. The people of Hungerford were brave - the public and the injured. When I got there, we now know, it was all over. He had shot his last person. In any case, I had a gun and a flak jacket, and I was surrounded by eight blokes. Those who got it had nothing. The local police were unarmed - Roger Brereton and the like. So compared to what some people saw, and to what they still have to deal with, you realize that you got off lightly.’

According to one of the tabloid newspapers, soon after the announcement that Ryan had shot himself, a good number of the townsfolk of Hungerford went wild with delight. It reported that some residents living near to the school ran into the street chanting: ‘The bastard’s dead, the bastard’s dead.’ The paper claimed that children, many of whom had been ordered to hide under their beds while Ryan was on the loose, cycled up and down yelling ‘Good riddance’, while in the pubs of Hungerford, drinkers toasted his death. Hungerford’s mourning had thus still to begin.

Ron Tarry formed a completely different impression as he walked around the town in the wake of the shootings. He explains: ‘I saw people shocked and talking in hushed tones to each other. My impression was that it was largely the press and others who had rushed into the town and were drinking in the pubs. Not one resident toasted Ryan’s death, and there were no signs of rejoicing. What that newspaper reported was totally untrue.’



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