WHEN Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children
and a teacher in a school gymnasium in March 1996, it seemed to
the world like a spontaneous and inexplicable act of madness.
But in fact, there were many warnings in the prelude to the Dunblane
massacre. Most of them were ignored or brushed aside by the
20 years, Hamilton’s name was enough to raise a groan in the
offices of Central Scotland Police. For some officers, the
name meant paedophile. For others, it meant hundreds of hand-written
complaints against Hamilton by his neighbours, Stirling District
Council and the Scout Association. From 1977 to 1996, officers
investigated Hamilton, yet for almost 20 years, the force’s
firearms unit granted him a gun licence. Last night’s
decision by Colin Boyd QC, the Lord Advocate, to push for the publication
of a secret police report compiled on Hamilton five years before
the shooting may shed further light on why the misfit was able to
carry out the atrocity.
At the Cullen inquiry into the massacre, Central
Scotland Police’s most senior officers were accused of dereliction
of duty. Their application of gun law was slack and complacent,
it was claimed. Colin Campbell, QC, who represented Hamilton’s
victims, told the inquiry. “But for the culpable failure
by Central Scotland Police, it is probable that the events of 13
March at Dunblane primary school would not have occurred.”
A loner all his
adult life, Hamilton had a confused childhood. After his father
left when he was 18 months old, he was brought up by his grandparents,
believing his mother to be his sister.
In his early twenties, Hamilton became a Boy Scout
leader, but he was dismissed within a year after complaints about
two weekend camps he conducted in Aviemore in 1974. The
boys returned cold, wet and hungry, and had spent one night not,
as promised, in a hostel, but in the back of Hamilton’s van.
Brian Fairgrieve, a retired surgeon and former Scouting county commissioner
for Stirlingshire, interviewed Hamilton after the complaints.
He told police: “I formed the impression that he had a persecution
complex, that he had delusions of grandeur, and I thought his actions
were almost paranoiac.”
Mr Fairgrieve’s investigation led to Hamilton’s
expulsion from the Scouts, but he formed his own boys’ clubs,
holding gymnastics classes at a number of schools in central Scotland.
His youth clubs were quasi-militaristic affairs, with great emphasis
on physical exercise. The boys would drill, stripped to the
waist, in all weather.
George Robertson LINK,
then the shadow Scottish secretary, who lives in Dunblane, withdrew
his son from one of the clubs in 1983 after watching what was going
on. It was, he told the Cullen inquiry into the murders, “a
bit like the Hitler youth”. His “gut feeling”
that there was something wrong even led him to write to Michael
Forsyth, the local MP and later Scottish secretary. LINK
From November 1981, Hamilton hired school halls
for 15 boys’ clubs from local authorities across the Central,
Fife and Lothian regions. He held a Grade 5 certificate from
the British Amateur Gymnastics Association, which permitted him
to coach under supervision, but most of the activity was football.
A summer camp run by Hamilton on Inchmoan Island on Loch Lomond
was visited by police in July 1988, after one boy had returned home
unhappy. The 13 boys appeared cold and inadequately dressed,
the sleeping bags were damp. Although some said they were
homesick and Hamilton would not allow them to phone their parents,
none wished to leave with the officers. The procurator fiscal
investigated stories from the boys that Hamilton had slapped them,
but found their accounts contradictory. No action was taken,
but an enraged Hamilton began to deluge police with complaints.
However, it is the complaints about another summer
camp run by Hamilton, in Mullarochy Bay, Loch Lomond, in July 1991,
that are believed to form the backbone of a police report, ordered
by Lord Cullen to be protected from public view for a century.
written by Detective Sergeant Paul Hughes, the former head of Central
Scotland Police’s child protection unit, was damning, but
only extracts of his investigation were revealed during the Cullen
Part of the report contained a passage from Mr Hughes recommending
in 1991 that Hamilton’s gun licence be revoked. He wrote:
“I am firmly of the opinion that Hamilton is an unsavoury
character and an unstable personality. I would contend
that Hamilton will be a risk to children whenever he has access
to them and he appears to me to be an unsuitable person to possess
a firearms certificate. It is my opinion that he is a devious
and deceitful individual who is not to be trusted.”
The report was later overlooked by his superior,
Douglas McMurdo, then deputy chief constable, because Hamilton had
not been convicted of any crime.
The question now is whether the report did more
than list abused children. Did it, as alleged, also contain
damning evidence that Hamilton had friends in high places, or even
that he was being protected by politicians? The decision on
whether the public will gain access to it now lies with the Lord
They had key roles in tragedy investigation:
• LORD CULLEN: He made the decision to keep
one of the most significant aspects of his inquiry into the Dunblane
massacre away from public view for 100 years. The evidence
given to the inquiry by Paul Hughes, the former head of Central
Scotland’s police child protection unit, was deemed by Lord
Cullen as too sensitive for public record as it contained details
of boys Thomas Hamilton had abused during youth club summer camps.
Now Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Cullen was last year
appointed as Lord President of the Court of Session. A judge
since 1986, Lord Cullen has become an omnipresent figure in the
public eye due to his high-profile roles heading the inquiries into
some of Britain’s worst tragedies.
• DOUGLAS McMURDO LINK:
The former deputy chief constable of Central Scotland Police, resigned
in 1996 after his force was harshly criticised following the publication
of the Cullen report. From Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway,
McMurdo broke down after five hours of intensive questioning at
the height of the Cullen inquiry when he was directly accused of
failing to act in 1991 when Detective Sergeant Paul Hughes, suggested
to senior officers that Hamilton’s firearm certificate be
The current general secretary of NATO LINK
came into contact with Thomas Hamilton after he withdrew his son
from a club run by the killer at Dunblane High School in 1983. Robertson,
the son and brother of Scottish policemen and then Labour MP for
Hamilton North, told the Cullen Inquiry he was concerned by the
quasi-militaristic nature of the youth club.
He later told Lord Cullen his "gut feeling"
led him to believe something was wrong and that he raised his fears
with Michael Forsyth the then MP for the Stirling constituency,
which covered Dunblane.
The former Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for the Dunblane
area at the time of the deaths. Mr Forsyth LINK
received a number of complaints from his constituents, about Thomas
Born into a lower-middle class family, the son
of a garage owner in Montrose, Mr Forsyth later earned a political
reputation as an arch-Thatcherite but lost his seat in the 1997
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