Police are investigating how a builder obtained a gun allegedly used to shoot his partner and young children dead.
Robert Needham, 42, is thought to have killed Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and daughters Ava, four, and two-year-old Lexi before turning the gun on himself at their £500,000 rural West Sussex home.
The family’s Staffordshire bull terrier Bill was also killed in the horrific attack which was discovered by a family friend who climbed through a window of their property in Woodmancote after they failed to answer his calls or knocks at the door.
Sussex Police are probing whether the gun used in the massacre was obtained illegally – or whether Mr Needham may have held a valid firearm or shotgun certificate. It is understood to be a key line of inquiry in the investigation.
Robert Needham is pictured with his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons. Their bodies were found at home in Woodmancote, West Sussex, on Sunday evening
Mr Needham (pictured left) is believed to have killed his partner Kelly and their two children, Ava, four and Lexi, two (also pictured)
How do you get a gun licence in the UK?
To get a firearm legally in the UK, you have to have a firearm licence.
You also need one to buy ammunition.
They are issued by local police forces who need to be satisfied you don’t pose any danger to the public and do not have any violent previous convictions.
They will ask for a passport photo and a referee.
You will need two referees for a firearm licence and one for a shotgun licence.
These referees need to have known you for at least two years and cannot be a relative, arms dealer, or a member of the police.
The cost of a UK gun licence is around £80.
The country surroundings of the family’s village of Woodmancote make it popular with grouse, pheasant and clay-pigeon shooters.
But local gun clubs had no knowledge of Mr Needham, while neighbours and friends of the family said they were not aware of guns on the property and did not know if Mr Needham went shooting.
Asked whether the gun was legally held, Sussex Police said: ‘This is an ongoing investigation and this will form part of that investigation.’
It was recently revealed that Ms Fitzgibbons waved to her neighbour Daniel Silvester-Worrall just hours before the shooting.
Mr Silvester-Worrall believes he was the last person to see mother-of-two alive before the massacre.
The former military police officer told The Sun: ‘When I was going down the lane, I actually recall seeing someone was in the window.
‘It was Kelly, shortly before the incident, standing in the left window downstairs so I acknowledged her and gave a little wave.
‘I was potentially one of the last people to have seen her.’
‘Lovely grandchildren’ Ava and Lily (pictured) were found murdered in an upstairs room and their parents, named as Robert and Kelly, were also found dead
Mr Needham and his partner Ms Fitzgibbons (above) lived at his mother’s home in West Sussex
The massacre has stunned the village’s close-knit community, with locals commenting that keen angler Mr Needham had in recent weeks talked of ‘plans for the future’.
Just 48 hours before the tragedy, Miss Fitzgibbons posted a series of images online showing the family enjoying a lockdown walk in the sunshine.
There are fears self-employed Mr Needham was suffering financially as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, having recently bought a second home in nearby Waterlooville, Hampshire, which he was renovating.
He was also building an extension on the Woodmancote property, owned by his mother Maureen, 77, to ‘make it nice for her’. Mrs Needham lived in the downstairs part of the property, while the family lived upstairs, but she is thought to be self-isolating elsewhere.
Robert Needham, 42, his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and their two children Ava, five, and Lexi, three, died in a house in Woodmancote, West Sussex, in a suspected murder suicide
Forensics officers work at the scene in Woodmancote this morning. Sussex Police went to the three-bedroom home at 6.45pm on Sunday after receiving a call raising a welfare concern
Louise Paffey, a friend of Miss Fitzgibbons, said: ‘We didn’t know anything about guns. It was a surprise to me.
‘I was supposed to meet Kelly on Friday for lunch but we cancelled because of coronavirus. We regularly exchanged WhatsApp messages and there was no indication that there was anything untoward going on.’
The alarm is thought to have been raised on Sunday evening. Friend Ronald Peacock was asked to check on the family. When he failed to get an answer at the front door, he climbed through a window and discovered the bloodbath.
Sussex Police said: ‘The cause of death will not be released until at least all four post-mortems have been completed.’
After news of the deaths spread through the leafy West Sussex village this week, one neighbour branded the father-of-two a ‘bully’, describing him as ‘rude’, ‘ignorant’ and a ‘nasty piece of work’.
Forensic officers lift up tape in Woodmancote on Tuesday after the family of four were found dead. Police launched a murder investigation, amid suspicions over a possible murder-suicide
Police tape surrounds the garden of a house in the West Sussex village of Woodmancote this morning. Officers confirmed they are not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths
There has been a spike in domestic violence since the UK was ordered to stay indoors to stem the spread of the deadly virus on March 23.
The number of suspected killings now stands at nine, with three other incidents in Hertfordshire, Wales and South Yorkshire.
Uncle Ronald Peacock found the bodies
The former next-door neighbour who described him as a ‘bully’ added: ‘He was rude, he let that dog out at all hours of the night. She was nice but I kept away from him.
‘He was ignorant and also made a lot of noise but he would complain to my landlord about me exercising in the house at tea time… I just didn’t want to get into a confrontation with him.’
In a now-deleted Facebook post to a friend, his mother Maureen confirmed what happened, saying: ‘It was Robert, Kelly and my lovely grandchildren that all died upstairs.’
Ms Fitzgibbons’ twin sister Emma Ambler had posted a picture of the siblings together on Facebook, which was followed by dozens of people responding with images of love hearts in tribute.
Her husband Thomas told the Daily Mail she was too upset to talk, adding: ‘We are devastated.’
Mr Needham and his partner Ms Fitzgibbons had two children – Ava, five, and Lexi, three
Miss Fitzgibbons’ stepsister Cheryl Giles said: ‘Kelly was the sweetest, kindest, loveliest woman who lived for her girls.’
The family had moved to the large property to help care for Needham’s mother after his father Rex, who suffered with Parkinson’s disease, died in 2017.
He was in the process of building a granny flat so the parties could live separately, sources claim.
Douglas Meany, 70, a retired neighbour of the Needham family, said yesterday : ‘I’ve known the family a very long time. We got on well as neighbours.
‘As far as I know they were a fairly close-knit family, just normal, but not in each other’s pockets. For a while the house was used as a care home which the family ran.
The deaths came just two days after Ms Fitzgibbons posted a series of pictures on Facebook of her family out in the countryside last Friday under the heading ‘our walk for the day’
‘Previous to that Maureen and her husband used to run a village shop. On Sunday I was alerted to the fact there was a lot of activity in the lane outside. I saw two paramedic vehicles, unmarked police cars in the lane as well as marked.
‘That carried on right through the night, comings and goings, and forensics seemed to arrive at around midnight. At first we didn’t know who or what was involved, but because of the activity it was obviously important.
‘As there was more police and paramedics involved, we knew that somebody was in trouble, then it came to light that there may have been fatalities and there might have been more than one.’
Mr Meany added of the four deaths: ‘We were naturally very surprised, it would take a lot for somebody to do that but there was no evidence previously that there was a problem.
‘Robert was building an extension for the family to live in, but whilst he was building that he wasn’t getting an income from any other building work so it might have been that there were issues over finance or it might have been issues over people living together in confined conditions.
A photograph Ms Fitzgibbons posted on Friday – two days before the family were found dead
‘I think Robert and Kelly and the children tended to stay in a section of the house and Maureen stayed in another section. I don’t know how Robert used to get on with Kelly but there was never any evidence of any discord.
‘Maureen has relatives in Manchester and near London and she does spend time with them. I don’t know where she is but I would suspect that she might be with one of her daughters.’
Other neighbours of the family also reacted with shock yesterday at the deaths, with one who did not wish to be named telling MailOnline: ‘This is an awful, awful tragedy.
‘It is a very small community and everyone knew the family, who were lovely. We know the police are not looking for anyone else so it makes it all the more shocking.’
The tragic deaths came just two days after Ms Fitzgibbons posted a series of photos on Facebook of her family out in the countryside last Friday under the heading ‘our walk for the day’.
Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Jerry Westerman said: ‘This is believed to be an isolated incident contained to one property and in these early stages of the investigation we are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident.’
Locals were warned of a heightened police presence, and anyone with information was told contact Sussex Police on 101 quoting Operation Cotton.
NINE die in string of killings as UK enters second week of quarantine
Nine people have died in a string of killings as Britain entered its second week under the coronavirus quarantine.
As well as the Sussex deaths, a man was charged with killing his wife in South Wales.
An NHS nurse was also stabbed to death in the street in South Yorkshire and three died in an apparent murder-suicide in Hertfordshire.