UPDATE: Gunman kills three including judge in courtroom shooting spree

Armed police search for the gunman
Armed police search for the gunman
People escape from the courthouse in shock
People escape from the courthouse in shock
Witnesses escape the mayhem
Witnesses escape the mayhem
Police apprehended the gunman as he tried to escape on a motorbike
Police apprehended the gunman as he tried to escape on a motorbike

A man on trial for fraudulent bankruptcy opened fire in Milan's courthouse, killing his lawyer, a co-defendant and a judge before being captured nearly 15 miles away as he fled on a motorbike, officials said.

As the shots rang out in the fortress-like tribunal, court employees barricaded themselves inside their offices and took cover under their desks while police hunted for the gunman who moved unimpeded from one floor to the next.

"There was a lot of panic at the beginning when people came running towards us saying there was a person with a pistol who had been shooting," said lawyer Mirko Ricetti, who said he locked himself in a first-floor courtroom after hearing a shot.

After texting loved ones that they were OK, employees and lawyers were eventually allowed to trickle out of the tribunal, women first, followed by the men who had their court ID cards checked.

Interior minister Angelino Alfano said the suspect was caught by police in Vimercate, near Monza, indicating he had travelled some 15 miles from the scene before being captured.

An ambulance with escort was seen leaving the Vimercate police station, but it was not immediately clear if the gunman was inside.

Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati said the gunman first fired on his lawyer and co-defendant, killing both and seriously injuring a second co-defendant.

Afterwards, he "walked through the building, going down a floor, and killed the judge", Mr Bruti Liberati told the Associated Press.

He said it was not clear whether there was any relationship between the gunman and the judge.

He identified the killed judge as Fernando Ciampi, who worked in the civil section of bankruptcy court.

The ANSA news agency identified the gunman as Claudio Giardiello.

Mr Bruti Liberati said the gunman was on trial with two others for fraudulent bankruptcy.

Giardiello's former lawyer, Valerio Maraniello, told RAI state TV the case concerned a failed property business and that Giardiello was "very unusual" and "over the top" in his legal dealings.

The shooting immediately raised questions about how the man gained entrance to the Fascist-era courthouse with a weapon, given that visitors must pass through metal detectors.

The courthouse has metal detectors at the four main entrances, but lawyers and courthouse employees with official IDs are regularly waved through without the additional security screen and accredited employees can drive into the internal garage.

Lawyers Mirko and Davide Pupo noted that the metal detector from the lawyers' entrance had been removed several months ago.

Employees who emerged after the shooting suggested that the gunman could easily have gained entrance without passing through the metal detector by entering with his lawyer, though other lawyers said their clients are routinely told to go in via the public entrance.

Deputy interior minister Filippo Bubbico said an investigation would determine who was to blame for any security lapse, given also that the gunman was not stopped as he moved from one floor to the next to continue the spree, and then was able to flee unimpeded.

"There's no doubt that this episode signals a non-functioning of the protection mechanisms, which must be employed daily and which have worked for years at the Milan tribunal," he told Sky TG24.

Security concerns are particularly high in Milan given the May 1 opening of the Expo world's fair. Mr Alfano was in Milan on Thursday to preside over a public security co-ordination meeting for Expo when the shooting erupted.