Michael Ryan PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 January 2009 10:16

http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/160000/images/_164402_michael_ryan150.jpgMichael Robert Ryan

Born:   May 18, 1960, Savernake Hospital, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK

Died:  August 19, 1987, Hungerford, Berkshire, UK

Age: 27

Cause of death: Self inflicted gunshot wound

Notable because: Unemployed laborer with a gun obsession flips out, shoots his mum and 15 others and then himself. His final words were 'I wish I had stayed in bed.'

 Ryan was an only child, reportedly bullied and sullen at school. His father, Alfred Henry Ryan, was 55 years old when Michael was born, and died in Swindon, Wiltshire, in May 1985 at the age of 80 - just over two years before the massacre. Ryan lived alone with his mother, who was a dinner lady at the local primary school; there was extensive press comment on this suggesting the relationship was 'unhealthy' and that Ryan was 'spoiled'. A Guardian headline described Ryan as a 'mummy's boy'.

In the days following the massacre, the British tabloid press was filled with stories about Michael Ryan's life. Press biographies all stated that he had a fondness for, and possibly even an obsession with, guns. The majority claimed that Ryan possessed magazines about survival skills and firearms, Soldier of Fortune being frequently named. He was also said to be a fan of the Rambo film First Blood in which the press erroneously claimed events similar to the Hungerford massacre take place.

The Hungerford massacre occurred in Hungerford, Berkshire, England, on August 19, 1987. A 27-year-old unemployed local labourer, Michael Robert Ryan, armed with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, shot and killed sixteen people including his mother, and wounded fifteen others, then fatally shot himself. A report on this incident was commissioned by the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, from the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Colin Smith. It remains, along with the Dunblane massacre, one of the worst criminal atrocities involving firearms in British history.

The massacre led to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which banned the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricted the use of shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than two rounds. The Hungerford Report had demonstrated that Ryan's collection of weapons was legally licensed.

Ryan had been issued a shotgun certificate in 1978, and on 11 December 1986 he was granted a firearms certificate covering the ownership of two pistols. He later applied to have the certificate amended to cover a third pistol, as he intended to sell one of the two he had acquired since the granting of the certificate, and to buy two more. This was approved on 30 April 1987. On 14 July he applied for another variation, to cover two semi-automatic rifles, which was approved on 30 July. At the time of the massacre, he was in licensed possession of the following:

  • Zabala shotgun
  • Browning shotgun
  • Beretta 92 semi-automatic 9 mm pistol
  • CZ ORSO semi-automatic .32 pistol
  • Chinese "Type 56" copy of Kalashnikov AK-47 7.62x39mm semi-automatic rifle
  • M1 Carbine .30 7.62x33mm semi-automatic rifle (a rare "Underwood" model)

Ryan used the Beretta pistol, and the Type 56 and M1 rifles, in the massacre. The CZ pistol was being repaired by a dealer at the time. The Type 56 was purchased from arms dealer Mick Ranger. 

The first shooting occurred seven miles (11.2 km) to the west of Hungerford in Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, at 12:30 in the afternoon of August 19. Susan Godfrey, 35, had come to the area with her children, Hannah, 4, and James, 2 from Reading, Berkshire and was picnicking when she was abducted by Ryan at gun-point, and shot thirteen times in the back.

Ryan then drove in his car, a silver Vauxhall Astra GTE, from the forest along the A4 towards Hungerford and stopped at a petrol station three miles (5 km) from the town. After waiting for a motorcyclist, Ian George, to depart from the garage, he shot at the cashier, Mrs Kakaub Dean, and missed. Ryan again tried to shoot her at close range with his M1 carbine, but the rifle's magazine had fallen out, probably because he inadvertently hit the release mechanism. He left the petrol station and continued towards Hungerford.

Whilst Ryan was driving to Hungerford, George, having witnessed the attempted shooting of Dean, stopped in the village of Froxfield and placed the first emergency call to the police.

At around 12:45, Ryan was seen at his home in South View, Hungerford. He shot the family dog or dogs (reports differ, one or two) before turning the gun on his 63-year-old mother, Dorothy Ellen Ryan. He set fire to the house with the petrol he had bought earlier in the day, the fire damaging three surrounding properties. He then removed the three shotguns from his car, possibly because it would not start. He shot and killed husband and wife Roland and Sheila Mason, who were in their back garden at their house in South View.

On foot, Ryan proceeded towards the common, injuring two more people: Marjorie Jackson and Lisa Mildenhall (aged 14, shot in both legs.) Jackson contacted George White, a colleague of her husband, who contacted her husband Ivor Jackson, who were both later shot, leaving White dead and Jackson injured. On the footpath towards the common he also killed Kenneth Clements who was walking with his family.

Returning to Southview, he shot 23 rounds at PC Roger Brereton, a police officer who had just arrived at the scene, killing him as he remained sitting in his patrol car. Linda Chapman and her daughter Alison Chapman were next shot and injured, having just driven into Southview in a car. Ryan fired 11 bullets from his semi-automatic into their Volvo; Linda was hit in the shoulder, Alison in the right thigh. Linda was able to drive to the local doctor's without further injury, although she crashed into a tree outside. A bullet was found to be lodged at the base of Alison's spine; during a subsequent operation to remove it, it was decided that the risk of paralysis was too great, and it was left in place.

Ryan moved along Fairview Road, killing Abdul Khan, who was in his back garden, and injuring Alan Lepetit who was walking along the road. An ambulance which had just arrived in the road was next shot at, injuring Hazel Haslett before it drove off.

By, or before, 14:30 Ryan had ensconced himself at the John O'Gaunt Community Technology College (closed and empty at that time of year for summer holidays), where he had previously been a pupil. Police surrounded the building. Negotiators made contact with him; at one point he waved what appeared to be an unpinned grenade at them through the window. At 19:00, still in the school, he shot himself. One of the statements Ryan made towards the end was widely reported: "I wish I had stayed in bed".

Hungerford is policed by two Sergeants and twelve Constables. On the morning of 19 August 1987 the duty cover for the sector consisted of one Sergeant, two Patrol Constables and one Station Duty Officer. A number of factors hampered the police response:

  • The telephone exchange could not handle the number of 999 calls made by witnesses.
  • The Thames Valley firearms squad were training 40 miles away.
  • The police helicopter was in for repair, though it was eventually deployed.
  • Only two phone lines were in operation at the local police station which was undergoing renovation.

J G Ballard's novel Running Wild centres around the fictitious Richard Greville, a Deputy Psychiatric Advisor with the Metropolitan Police who authored "an unpopular minority report on the Hungerford killings" and is sent to investigate mass murder in a gated community. Ballard has professed an interest in the Hungerford massacre and other "pointless crimes" such as that in Dunblane and the murder of Jill Dando.

The Hungerford massacre has inspired Christopher Priest's 1998 novel The Extremes

Sulk, the penultimate track on Radiohead's album The Bends, was written as a response to the massacre.

Chris Bowsher, founder member of the band Radical Dance Faction, was a witness to the events and wrote Hungerford Poem which appears on the band's early album Hot On The Wire.

Spoof Welsh rap group Goldie Lookin' Chain mentioned the killer in their song Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do, a satire on the supposed links between gangsta rap and gun crime as reported in the press: 'Like Michael Ryan, about to snap, guns don't kill people, it's just rap'

Marvel Comics mentioned the Hungerford massacre as background for their fictional mutant antihero Pete Wisdom, stating that his mother was one of the victims.

The Smiths were due to release the single Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before around the time of the massacre. However, the song was later prevented from being released because it contained the line "...and plan a mass murder". Many felt it would be insensitive to go ahead with the single and therefore it didn't.

In 1989, The Smiths' former lead singer Morrissey, who by this point had become a solo artist, based his song "Michael's Bones" on the incident. It appears as the B-side to The Last of the Famous International Playboys.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 January 2009 10:28

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