~ The bodies of the victims of the Dunblane massacre
hardly had a chance to grow cold when the wheels were put in motion
the next day to appoint the judge tailored for the Dunblane
Scottish Political Editor
Sunday 8 January 2012
Secretary at the time of the Dunblane massacre
wanted to avoid an "over-reaction" by having the "right
judge" lead the subsequent public inquiry,
according to previously secret files in the National Archives
New files from the National
Archives have cast light on the aftermath of the tragedy.
Forsyth made the point in a memo to the then prime minister
John Major on the morning after the tragedy,
in which gunman Thomas Hamilton killed 16
pupils and their teacher at Dunblane Primary School
some Conservative ministers were worried about a crackdown on firearms
affecting the "field sports lobby", other files show.
The documents were made
public this week under Scotland's 15-year-rule, which opens official
files in half the time of Whitehall's 30 years. In a memo, Incident
at Dunblane Primary School dated March 14,
1996, Forsyth refers to talks with Lord
Advocate Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, head of Scotland's
Both agreed that, while
the law demanded only a fatal accident inquiry
under a sheriff, that was inadequate given "the very considerable
public concern about the character and behaviour of the gunman in
The correct response,
Forsyth said, would be a judge-led inquiry
with a "simple remit".
He went on: "The
Lord Advocate and I consider that the judge
concerned may find it necessary to address questions relating to the
way in which firearms legislation is applied in practice; about security
of school premises; and about the supervision of voluntary youth workers.
"I think we have
to allow these matters to be exposed to public scrutiny, and I have
confidence that, providing the right judge is selected, we need not
fear any over-reaction on his part."
Later that day, Lord
Cullen of Whitekirk, the highly respected judge who
led the inquiry into the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster
in which 167 North Sea oil rig workers died, was appointed.
Documents show Lord
Cullen wanted to stay in touch with ministers during
his independent inquiry.
In a "restricted"
email about a March 15 meeting between Lord
Cullen, Lord Mackay,
and Scotland's top judge, Lord
Hope [Ed. ~
Two of them, at least, are members of the exclusive, secretive and
highly suspect, Masonic Speculative
Society of Edinburgh], a Scottish Office official
said Lord Cullen wanted the terms of reference
kept simple, as this would "leave open the possibility of a 'side
letter' giving him some guidance on the extent to which the
Secretary of State wished him to pursue enquiries [Ed.
~ "avoid enquiries"] in certain areas or to report
with recommendations ... In short, he is sympathetic to the idea of
receiving a certain amount of 'direction'".
On March 21, Forysth
hosted a supper at Bute House for Lords
Cullen and Mackay
about the inquiry.
An official recorded:
"Lord Cullen said he would find it
helpful to be kept in touch with developments in government thinking
on relevant issues and hoped it would be possible to have regular
meetings on policy issues" and "might at some stage wish
to come to see" Forsyth.
For his part, Forysth
wanted "practical recommendations which the government could
implement, with all-party agreement".
By July, Forsyth
appeared anxious about the Home Office watering
down firearm controls.
report will be a matter for the Scottish to handle;
but I fear that the Home Office will try
to take over those parts of it which relate to firearms," Forsyth's
permanent secretary, Russell Hillhouse,
does not want to accept a cautious Home Office
line only to find that it collapses under public pressure."
Ahead of Lord
Cullen reporting, Forsyth
had a series of meetings with Cabinet colleagues to discuss possible
The minute of a September
meeting with Education Secretary Gillian Shephard
recorded Forsyth's "disquiet"
about someone being able to keep a large number of handguns and ammunition
felt "most gun owners were not unstable, introverted individuals
... she saw a need to reassure
the field sports lobby that their legitimate use of firearms was not
report in October 1996 recommended tighter control of handgun ownership,
changes to school security and the vetting of people working with
The Tory government introduced
a ban on handguns with the exception of .22-calibre single-shot weapons
in England, Scotland and Wales.
After New Labour won
the 1997 General Election, it extended to the ban to the .22 guns.
PART TWO: letters of
A SERIES of heart-rending
letters to and from the families of the Dunblane
victims have been made public by the National Archives of Scotland.
They include letters
from Michael Forsyth, the then Conservative
Scottish Secretary, to the parents of the 16 P1 children killed by
Thomas Hamilton, and to the widower of
their dead teacher, Gwen Mayor.
"I know that nothing
I can write can bring any real comfort in your grief," Forsyth
told the parents.
"But I feel I must
try to convey to you the sense of love, sympathy and support which
all parents – indeed, all who have been touched by last week's
tragedy – are feeling for you now.
"I know that you
would have had great hopes for [the child's] future – hopes
cruelly dashed in an instant of senseless violence. The sense of loss
will never leave you.
"I hope that you
may draw comfort and solace from the support of a community which
has taken all of the bereaved families to its heart.
"If there is anything
at all which [my wife and I] can do to help you in your time of sorrow,
you know that you have only to ask."
Other letters were sent
to the heads of the emergency services and local health boards.
"We are all in your
debt," Forysth told them. Forsyth
also wrote to Prime Minister John Major
after he and his wife Norma visited Dunblane
with other politicians in the days after the shooting.
"I should tell you
how much your presence - was appreciated by all those affected by
the terrible events of last Wednesday," Forsyth
"Your sympathy and
support are greatly valued by everyone in the community, which will
need every assistance to sustain it as people seek to look forward
He then added a handwritten
postscript: "Please pass on our thanks to Norma who was marvellous.
It cannot have been easy for her."
The files also include
emotional letters from foreign heads of state to the prime
president Boris Yeltsin asked for his sincere condolences
to be passed to families of the victims "of this inhuman act".
He wrote: "To the
depth of my soul I am shocked by the tragedy
- The monstrosity of a cruel and senseless murder of innocent pupils
and their teacher produced a reaction of pain and compassion in Russia.
We mourn together with the British people."
then the prime minister of Israel and now
its president, wrote: "I was deeply pained when I heard the news.
There are no words to describe
the lowest depth of this barbaric act. The horror is almost
too great to perceive."
then South Africa's president, expressed his "sympathy and dismay
at the heartbreaking tragedy".
He added: "Our thoughts
and prayers are with the families of the children and their teacher
who met such an untimely death."
PART THREE: warning of
OFFICIALS blocked a plan
to honour people affected by the Dunblane tragedy,
warning it could sow bitterness in the community. Files from the National
Archives show Tory Scottish Secretary Michael
Forsyth wanted to "press ahead urgently" with
honours for those involved in the incident.
On March 18, 1996, five
days after the killings, his office wanted to bypass "normal
procedures" and bestow honours through the Queen's forthcoming
Birthday Honours list.
However, the idea led
to warnings from the Cabinet Office's ceremonial branch, who said
past experience showed it was best to wait some time.
Ceremonial officer Anthony
Merifield wrote: "In this context I suspect that
'anger' could be directed towards some of the survivors ('why you
and not my child or husband or wife?') and in such a complex emotional
situation time lends perspective to all parties – including
those who have to consider whether it would be fitting to accept an
award when others are so damaged around them."
Hillhouse, the top official at the Scottish Office,
then wrote a memo to Forsyth, saying it
would "very unwise to rush to a decision".
In a handwritten note
on the memo, Forsyth backed down: "I'm
sure you're right on this." View
the Forsyth memo to Prime Minister
John Major - after The Herald