The director of an adventure sports centre in St Leonards where a man stole a semi-automatic rifle before murdering two women has spoken out.
Lee Bartholomew is the director of 1066 Target Sports, in Sedlescombe Road North, where 35-year-old Craig Savage stole an M4 semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle from the centre’s live fire range on March 16 by threatening a member of staff.
Savage later used the weapon to kill his ex-wife Michelle Savage, 32, and her mother Heather Whitbread, 53, at their home in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, minutes after leaving 1066 Target Sports.
On Monday, he was found guilty of their murders and jailed for a minimum of 38 years.
Following Savage’s conviction, Mr Bartholomew said his thoughts were with Raven Whitbread – Michelle Savage’s sister who was seven months pregnant and in the house when her sister and mother were murdered – and her family.
He said: “In terms of addressing comments (after the incident) there is not really much I can say about it.
“We have been running safely for five, six years now without so much as a minor incident.
“We have liaised with the police and will liaise with the coroner moving forward as much as possible.
“We can assure everyone the rifles are safe and locked away at night. It is a safe activity which is done in the presence of a trained range controlling officer who have had their licences issued by the National Rifle Association.”
During Savage’s murder trial, a court heard how Savage drove from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, to 1066 Target Sports on March 16.
While there, he booked an hour slot in the centre’s live range for himself and was accompanied by Ryan Graves, the deputy range manager.
Mr Graves testified during the trial and said Savage falsely told him during his time in the live range he had prostate cancer and that he did not have long left to live.
He said Savage went to the toilet two or three times during the hour slot and after returning the final time, Savage picked up the rifle, aimed it at Mr Graves and ordered him to open the door, the court was told.
Mr Graves attempted to calm Savage down, he told the court, but, after weighing up his options, he felt he had no option but to open the live range door.
Savage ran straight out of the centre to get in his car and drive to Bexhill Road, the court was told.
Mr Graves told the court he called police and supplied them Savage’s name and vehicle registration which the gunman had included on a form before entering the live range.
After the incident on March 16, Sussex Police recommended 1066 Target Sports installed more CCTV cameras so the whole live range area was covered.
Mr Bartholomew, who said he did not sleep for two days after the shootings, said he has also taken the decision to stop individual sessions on the live fire range and made it company policy that customers book their session 48 hours in advance.
He said the idea of a lock on the inside of the door would not work due to fire risks.
He also said the rifles could not be harnessed because they would need to be locked away at night and members of staff could still be threatened to unlock them.
He added: “Nothing more can be done to how the range safely runs.
“We have looked at all kinds of stuff but it would not work.”
Speaking about Mr Graves’ actions on the evening of March 16, Mr Bartholomew said: “Ryan did his best to talk him (Savage) down.
“He did an amazing job to keep him at bay. He didn’t want to let him out of the building but only when he threatened to shoot other people did he let him out.
“Ryan tried to hold him in while police were coming and police must have been here within a minute of being called. I live around the corner and came here as soon as Ryan called me and police were here before I got here.”