The day had begun in sunshine. The streets were filling up with families enjoying half-term, and Whitehaven was bright with the promise of summer. Then the first shots rang out.

Within a few hours, 12 people lay dead, and this quiet Georgian port had joined the ranks of Dunblane, Hungerford and Omagh as geographic shorthand for mass murder...

In the three-and-a-half hours from 10.35am (9.35pm Wed NZT), local taxi driver Derrick Bird was to unleash one of the most ferocious and perplexing killing sprees in Britain's modern criminal history.

By the time police recovered his body 20 miles away in the idyllic beauty spot of Boot in Eskdale, the death toll had reached at least a dozen, including several pensioners out shopping, most of them shot in the face or head at point-blank range either with a shotgun or a high-powered telescopic rifle.

A further 25 were injured, three of them seriously, after the short, balding 52-year-old ran amok with the two weapons.

According to a local newspaper, Bird killed his twin brother David before embarking on his murderous rampage in a nearby town.

Northern Yorkshire's The Northern Echo reported Bird, who killed 12 before finally taking his own life, first murdered his twin brother at his Fritzington home early on Wednesday morning.

Birn then shot dead his solicitor and a taxi driver before "calmly" unleashing carnage across the district, the Daily Mail reported.

Sky News said a family feud sparked the rampage, while the Daily Mail said it was a "trivial row" over rival cabbies stealing fares that pushed Bird over the edge.

During the hunt for the killer, thousands of people living and holidaying around the picturesque western fringes of the Lake District were ordered to stay indoors as Bird switched cars and opened fire in a series of small villages and country lanes with a randomness and ferocity that has left investigators puzzled. At the height of the manhunt the nuclear power station at Sellafield was locked down in case it was a target, while Cumbria police deployed all its armed teams along with helicopters and dozens of vehicles to give chase.

David Cameron, making his first appearance at Prime Minister's Questions, told MPs of the tragedy that had befallen a small rural community still struggling to recover from the devastating floods of last year, telling them that lives of local people had been shattered by the murders.

Even on Wednesday night (UK time), given the wide geographical area covered by the killer, police could not be sure that the final death toll was known and urged anyone who had been unable to get in touch with a friend or relative to contact them.

Forensic experts were at work at 30 crime scenes, the first of which was Duke Street in Whitehaven, where shots rang out at around 10.35am. The first victim was a friend and fellow driver of Bird's, named locally as Darren Rewcastle. He was apparently shot in connection with an argument which broke out on the taxi rank where they both worked some time the previous evening.

Two more taxi driver victims were gunned down in quick succession - one died instantly, the other was seriously injured - before witnesses saw Bird driving off in his silver Citroen Picasso and speeding away through the one-way system with his windscreen smashed and a large shotgun hanging out of the side window.

Brian Edwards, 67, a joiner, watched as Bird drove past brandishing one of his weapons. "I heard a bang and thought at first it might be the cannon that they fire at the docks - but it was too early. There were four shots and I looked round to see the taxi driver lying on the pavement," he said.

Four miles away at Egremont, once again people were going about their business when Bird's car arrived. Police and local radio had been urging everyone to stay indoors but the message had yet to filter through. One man was killed on Egremont Bridge while a second victim was left for dead a few hundred yards away. Witness Gary Toomey, 38, said: "I saw a car screeching off and a man saying `Help me'. He was bleeding heavily from the side of his face. He said he dived out of the way of the shot and the man in the car pointed the gun down and shot him again in the back from about six feet away as he lay on the floor."

Barrie Moss was cycling home near Thornhill outside Egremont when he heard a taxi hoot its horn. He said he thought some youths had run away without paying the fare. But as he and another man looked more closely he realised that a woman, apparently out shopping, had been shot just yards away from him.

"I got to the door [of the car] and there was a short, dumpy guy looking up the hill. He turned around and stared at me and just had this absolutely huge like sniper rifle. It was almost touching the floor, massive scope and everything. I looked at him and you just do a double take - `What is this? Is it just a toy to scare kids?"'

Mr Moss tried to help the female victim. "He [Bird] must have seen her, stopped, got out and shot her point blank in the back of the head. I don't think anybody could have done anything. There were bits of her that were supposed to be inside, outside. She died in both our arms."

Two more people were to die at nearby Seascale, a small coastal village popular with tourists. Another was injured. Local GP Barrie Walker pronounced the victims dead. One of them was a friend, who was named locally as Jane Robinson, 66, who lived with her twin sister Barrie nearby. The other Seascale victim was believed to be Michael Pike, shot as he cycled down the road.

"I had never seen shotgun injuries like this, and people lying on pavements in a quiet village, blood flowing on streets," the stunned doctor said. Other victims were seen in a Range Rover while one man reported seeing three bodies in one street alone.

At Gosforth on the main coast road, local farmer Garry Purdham, brother of England rugby player Rob and a father of two young children, was trimming hedges in a field with his uncle at around 11.30 when Bird pulled up, rolled down his window and shot him.
His friend, David Bowden, the chairman of Workington Town Rugby League Club, paid tribute to the dead man. "Garry Purdham was quite simply a gentleman and a real pleasure to know. As a player he was as honest and industrious on the pitch as indeed he was off it," he said.

At some point on his short journey down the coast Bird had switched cars and was now driving a black Vauxhall Astra. As he headed inland towards Eskdale the car crashed. A family came to his help but miraculously he did not open fire.

More than 100 people were by now cowering locked up in two pubs in the village of Boot at the end of the valley. Hundreds more were being kept safe inside station buildings at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway which, until then, had been enjoying one of its busiest days of the year.

Proceeding on foot, Bird opened fire at a crowded campsite, seriously injuring one person. But by now either he had nowhere to run or he was out of ammunition. Police swarmed to the end of the valley in helicopters and dozens of cars were parked up along the narrow lanes as officers fanned out to search the surrounding countryside. Around 1.40pm (UK time) a single gunshot was heard. Twenty minutes later police confirmed a body had been found. Derrick Bird was dead. The manhunt was over but the investigation was beginning.

- INDEPENDENT