Today is a sad day, marking the 27th anniversary of what became known as the Hungerford massacre. Gunman Michael Ryan, armed with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, shot and killed sixteen people including his mother, and wounded fifteen others, before fatally shooting himself. To this day, it remains one of the worst criminal atrocities involving firearms ever to occur in the United Kingdom.
Michael Ryan was an unemployed labourer and antiques dealer. He was born at Savernake Hospital in Marlborough, near Hungerford, in 1960. His father, Alfred, was 55 when Michael was born and died in Swindon in 1985, when Michael was 25. At the time of the shooting, Michael lived with his mother, Dorothy, a dinner lady at the local primary school. It was suggested in the press that their relationship was ‘unhealthy’ and that Ryan was ‘spoiled’ by his mother. A Guardian headline described Ryan as a ‘mummy’s boy’.
The motive for the killings is unknown and it is unlikely that they will ever be known as Michael killed himself and his mother, the only other person who knew him well. Dr John Hamilton of Broadmoor Hospital stated that ‘Ryan was most likely to be suffering from acute schizophrenia. He might have had a reason for doing what he did, but it was likely to be bizarre and peculiar to him.’ The local vicar, the Reverend David Salt, said on the first anniversary of the massacre, ‘No one has ever explained why Michael Ryan did what he did. And that’s because, in my opinion, it is not something that can be explained.’
Ryan took his victims indiscriminately and during the police attempts to coax him out of John O’Gaunt Community Technology College – where he barricaded himself into a classroom – he said his mother’s death was ‘a mistake’.
His victims were:
Susan Godfrey, 35; Roland and Sheila Mason; Kenneth Clements, 51; PC Roger Brereton; George White; Abdul Rahman Khan; Francis Butler; Marcus Barnard; Douglas Wainwright, 67; Eric Vardy; Sandra Hill, 22; Victor and Myrtle Gibbs; Ian Playle, 34; and his mother, Dorothy Ryan.
A detailed account of the events of the day is available on the Crime Library website.