How paranoia drove killer
obsessed with young boys
LUCY ADAMS and TOM
GORDON October 04 2005 LINK
THOMAS Hamilton was obsessed with young boys for most
of his adult life, the vast file of papers released yesterday at the
National Archives demonstrates. But despite growing unease among
parents, police and local authorities, he was never prosecuted or denied
a firearms certificate.
The story told by the newly opened files from the
Cullen Inquiry into Hamilton's killings at Dunblane is one of missed
The clues to Hamilton's mentally unstable and potentially
violent nature are now obvious. However, no-one assembled them
into a coherent, bigger picture, so the mass of information was never
acted upon before March 13, 1996. Documents revealed how
one 28-year-old witness who had known Hamilton for years told police
after the massacre that the killer would regularly vent his grievances
in phone calls. "I would say he did have a thing, almost
paranoia, about the Scouts, police and parents in Dunblane," the
witness told police. "He felt everyone was against him."
In February 1974, Hamilton was dismissed as a Scout leader.
His colleagues suggested he had "an ulterior motive for sleeping
with boys". Hamilton was effectively blacklisted after two
trips to Aviemore in which he forced the boys to sleep in a van rather
than the hostel and failed to look after them. At the time,
the local commissioner wrote that there was evidence he was "mentally
A confidential file was held by the association in
which members suggested he had a "persecution complex" –
an allegation confirmed by a psychologist's report in 1996 and his regular
letters of complaint to local organisations, including the police and
schools. In one letter to parents, Hamilton explained: "At
Dunblane Primary School where teachers have contaminated all of the
older boys with this poison, even former cleaners and dinner ladies
have been told by teachers at the school that I am a pervert."
The confidential report was shown to a police officer, but not until
After he was rejected by the Scout movement, Hamilton pursued
his interest in boys by setting up a series of clubs offering athletics,
football and adventure activities. He would typically lie about
their credentials, claiming they were backed by a committee. In
fact, they were Hamilton's private, sinister project.
Between 1981 and his death, Hamilton ran 15 clubs in
the Central, Lothian, Fife and Strathclyde regions. From
the outset, they attracted adverse attention. A police file
relating to the Dunblane Rover Group formed in 1981 warned that Hamilton
was a "suspected homosexual" who encouraged boys to truant.
Subsequent clubs generated yet more concern from the police. Hamilton
ran the clubs on almost military lines, demanding boys obey orders and
badgering parents who removed their sons. Members were made to
remove their tops and wear loose trunks or tight briefs as they exercised. Hamilton
would then photograph them using expensive equipment, which led to mounting
A pattern emerged: Hamilton would hire premises from
the local council, leaflet nearby residents, and attract scores of boys
at first. However, after his methods upset most of the children,
the numbers would decline and the club would fail, forcing Hamilton
to move elsewhere.
The files record that, in 1993, the mother of a nine-year-old
boy attending one of Hamilton's evening clubs at Stirling High School
visited to check how it was run. She found the gymnasium locked
from the inside and, when Hamilton opened the doors, she found him alone
with a half-dressed single boy he was photographing.
According to a police officer who interviewed Hamilton
the same year, he was "a man obsessed in his activities with boys. He
appeared to have no other interests."
The officer did not have enough evidence to level a
charge, but made a point of referring anxious parents to the-then Central
Regional Council in the hope that would pressurise the authority into
denying Hamilton lets on its premises. According to the police,
parents regularly expressed "alarm, disgust, anger and grave concern"
about Hamilton, but there was never a prosecution and councils continued
to rent premises to him.
Hamilton also organised residential camps, usually recruiting
boys from his clubs. They were ineptly run to the point of endangering
children, especially around water, with boys allowed to swim freely
in Loch Lomond on one occasion. They were largely unsupervised
except by Hamilton himself. Witness statements record Hamilton
hitting boys on the face and legs for misbehaving, and swearing at them.
As in the school clubs, he would make boys wear black briefs.
One witness statement records boys were told to rub
suntan lotion on one another even though it was cold and raining. LINK
Children complained and felt homesick, but Hamilton would not allow
them to phone their parents and read their postcards home. He
would also photograph and video the children, pretending to be making
an adventure film.
Complaints from parents led the police to make three
separate reports to prosecutors about camps run in 1988, 1991 and 1992.
Two reports were submitted to the procurators fiscal without Hamilton
being interviewed. On the suggestion that Hamilton go in for an
interview, he refused. The case was marked no proceedings as it
was "not in the public interest".
Police officers later suggested he should be charged
with breach of the peace for shouting at the boys, assault for slapping
one youngster on the face, and for lewd and libidinous behaviour.
But in 1993 the fiscal said there was insufficient evidence for a search
warrant to seize Hamilton's photographs of the boys at his camps.
In 1991, an officer in the child protection unit at Central Scotland
wrote to the detective superintendent in CID, calling for Hamilton's
firearms licence to be revoked after learning that the self-styled youth
leader had been investigated on a number of occasions. LINK
He wrote: "I am firmly of the opinion that Hamilton
is an unsavoury character and an unstable personality . . . I would
contend that Mr Hamilton will be a risk to children whenever he has
access to them and that he appears to me to be an unsuitable person
to possess a firearms certificate."
A handwritten note on the bottom of the document from
the deputy chief constable says he could not agree to such a recommendation
because the fiscal was expected to mark the case no proceedings.
A subsequent investigation by the deputy chief constable
of Strathclyde Police into the repeated decisions to grant his firearms
certificates, revealed that between 1977 and 1996 numerous officers
had failed to check Hamilton's criminal intelligence file.
Adding to the psychological stress on Hamilton and deepening
the depression that affected his final six months, the files show the
extent of his "severe financial difficulties".
Statements in the national archives show the boys'
club made a loss of £15,000. When he shot himself he
had assets of three pence, unpaid loans of £2350 and owed the
Royal Bank £2924.
Although he received some housing benefits, his other
benefits had been withdrawn in November 1993. Early in 1996, a
warrant to arrest his earnings for a failure to pay his council tax
arrears of £228.98 was issued. "The due date for monies
to be paid was March 13, 1996," said the document.
Social work offices across Scotland also knew of "concerns"
about Hamilton for many years.
The papers released yesterday reveal social workers
were even investigating Hamilton in the days before the Dunblane massacre
after he showed two boys a box of bullets in the back of a minibus –
but the case was not deemed a high priority.
On March 1, 1996, Isobel Martin, the headteacher of
Woodhill Primary School in Bishopbriggs, wrote to the-then Strathclyde
Regional Council's local social work office about Hamilton showing bullets
and pictures of dead animals to two boys just days before.
However, the social worker in charge "skim-read"
only the first of the letter's three pages and "did not digest
the contents in full", according to the files.
Unhappy, both Ms Martin and one of the boy's parents
rang the social work office again on March 11 and 12.
After checks with fellow social workers in Stirling
confirmed Hamilton was known as a suspicious character, a meeting was
finally arranged between officials and one of the boys for March 18,
five days after Hamilton's outrage at Dunblane.
When the lead social worker was interviewed afterwards,
"she frankly admitted that she did not treat the referral as a
matter of urgency until the Dunblane incident", one file said.
Typical of Hamilton's persecution complex and paranoia was his
obsessive letter writing campaign, whining about perceived injustices
to himself and threatening and complaining about officials who jeopardised
his activities with boys.
This reached a height on March 7, 1996, when he wrote
to the Queen, detailing his grievances against local teachers, police
and parents he felt had branded him a "pervert".
The prolific letter-writer explained, as he had done
on countless occasions to local parents and Scout officials, that rumours
and allegations had caused him great personal distress and destroyed
He wrote: "I cannot even walk the streets for
fear of ridicule. I turn to you as a last resort."
The letter was copied to Dunblane Primary School and
arrived the day before Hamilton's rampage. It was the final clue
in a puzzle the authorities did not solve until it was too late.
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