U.K. taxi driver kills at least 12

At least 12 people are dead and 25 injured after a taxi driver opened fire in northwest England in Britain's worst mass shooting since 1996.

Police find body of alleged shooter in woods

A blanket covers the body of a person believed to have been shot dead by taxi driver Derrick Bird in Egremont, northwest England, on Wednesday. ((Andrew Milligan/Associated Press))

At least 12 people are dead and 25 injured after a taxi driver opened fire in small, picturesque villages in northwest England on Wednesday morning, British police say.

The rampage, in a region famed for its tranquil beauty, shocked a country where handguns are banned and multiple shootings rare. It was Britain's deadliest mass shooting since 1996.

Police said three of eight people still in hospital after the attacks were in critical condition.

The shootings "shocked the people of Cumbria and around the country to the core," police Deputy Chief Const. Stuart Hyde said.

Queen Elizabeth issued a rare statement responding to headlines. She said she shared in "the grief and horror of the whole country" and offered sympathies to the victims' families.

Police found the body of a man they allege was the gunman, Derrick Bird, 52, a cabbie described as quiet but friendly. They found the body in a wooded area near the Lake District village of Boot, where it was believed Bird had fled.

They also found a gun alongside the body.

The discovery ended a harrowing morning for residents of the country's West and Central Lakes areas, whom police ordered to stay indoors as the search for Bird ensued.

"Police are asking those who were sheltering to now go about their normal day-to-day activities," the Cumbria Constabulary said on its website. "[We] thank them for their patience in incredibly difficult circumstances."

Shootings in 11 locations

The shootings began at about 10:30 a.m. local time in Whitehaven, a town in Cumbria county about 560 kilometres northwest of London.

Cumbria police released this picture of Derrick Bird, the suspect in Wednesday's deadly shootings. ((Cumbria Constabulary))

The BBC reported there had been shootings in 11 locations, not all of them fatal. Witnesses described seeing the gunman driving around and shooting out the window of his car.

Peter Watson, a witness, told the BBC he had seen a body lying in the road.

"When I first got here, it must have just happened. There was a man lying on the ground with police [standing] over him and a jacket on him," he said.

Another witness, Alan Hannah, told the Sun newspaper he was driving in Whitehaven when he "saw all these officers running out." He then "saw a man with a large shotgun" pull up to a stoplight in a car with a smashed windshield.

"I drove through the red light to get ... out of the way," Hannah, 68, told the newspaper. "I got home safely but was very shaken."

Soon afterward, a farmer was believed to have been shot dead in Gosforth, several kilometres to the east, according to BBC reporter Chris Stewart.

Police are asking other possible witnesses to come forward.

They have not released the names of those killed.

Sue Matthews, who works at A2B Taxis in Whitehaven, said Bird was self-employed, quiet and lived alone.

"I would say he was fairly popular," Matthews said. "I would see him once a week out and about. He was known as Birdy.

"I can't believe he would do that — he was a quiet little fellow."

Taxi driver Peter Leder knew Bird, whom he had seen on Tuesday. Leder said he was struck by Bird's words when they parted.

"When he left he said, 'See you Peter, but I won't see you again,' " he told the United Kingdom's Channel 4 News.

Deadly shootings are rare in Britain, where gun ownership is tightly restricted and handguns are banned.

In 1987, gun enthusiast Michael Ryan killed 16 people in the English town of Hungerford. In 1996, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and a teacher at a kindergarten in Dunblane, Scotland.

With files from The Associated Press