7 of Mick North's book: "DUNBLANE:
(Lord Cullen Report:
A Shortfall in Justice):
The handgun ban was achieved
in spite of, not because of, what Lord Cullen
had recommended. The whole process of the Inquiry
fell short of what I, as a victim's father, might have expected. Above
all, it should be an opportunity for truth and justice. In this
context, truth means the accurate presentation of all the facts that
are relevant to the events; justice equates with accountability.
It is too easy for those
who become entangled in the aftermath of a tragedy to find themselves
marginalised. This becomes amplified when an inquiry, purportedly
set up in the public interest, goes ahead without adequate explanation.
At first we were told nothing about the Cullen Inquiry or
legal representation, and had to take our own steps to remedy this. Had
we not started meeting together and been able to resolve the matter
as a group, it is doubtful whether we would have had time to prepare.
We had to appoint our own lawyer before we knew whether our legal costs
would be covered, a risk we had to take. Although our costs were
paid out of the public purse, we weren't to know that at the time.
We were given certain assurances about the Inquiry - the meeting with
Lord Cullen and the Crown Office lawyers was useful in this respect
- yet it provided an expectation of openness that wasn't fulfilled.
We received lists of witnesses and other documentation from our lawyers,
but had no clear overview of the strategy being adopted by the Crown
who were, it has to be said, there to represent the public interest.
The key participants in the Inquiry were lawyers and its procedures
and language, so familiar to them, were an alien world to many of the
families. Our own lawyers could help up to a point, but lack of
familiarity doesn't aid full participation in a supposedly public process. LINK
At the very least, shouldn't it be possible for a government
agency to produce a booklet on public inquiries that explains in lay
terms what is going on?
The Public Inquiry began
within weeks of the massacre, giving many of the parties little time
to prepare. The victims' families were still in a distressed state,
and it has only been possible to appreciate some of its shortcomings
retrospectively. This raises a general question. Public
inquiries are set up as "one-offs", a single opportunity to
establish and resolve all the problems. They have a "once-and-for-all"
quality and when they're over it is convenient for some parties to conclude
that everything is done and dusted. Is this not expecting far
too much from the process and those involved? It diminishes the
possibility of considering evidence that may come to light later. LINK
Should there not be a process that allows a review, if necessary, after
a set period? An area of concern from the Dunblane Inquiry is
the many rumours about Hamilton's links with police that have surfaced
since the Inquiry. There are suspicions about the motives
of those who have circulated them, yet there are very serious implications
if any of the rumours are true. Can they be investigated appropriately
once an inquiry is over? Lord Ewing suggested to me that
it should have been possible for Cullen to present a detailed but interim
report. After a suitable period of time, which would have allowed
a little healing, then the Inquiry could have been re-opened and other
issues raised, especially ones on which new information had become available.
The collection of evidence
for the Dunblane Inquiry and the selection of witnesses were undertaken
by the Crown Office and the local Procurator Fiscal. LINK
Through these processes they provided the parameters of the Inquiry,
which meant that they determined its course, no doubt in consultation
with Lord Cullen. It would be impossible to consider calling every
possible witness - no one would benefit from such an open-ended Inquiry
- and some limits have to be placed on the evidence that can be heard. The
question then arises as to how the limits are determined and to what
extent the selection process pushes the Inquiry in prescribed directions.
Certainly not all the available evidence needs to be presented,
and with some of it, such as details of the victims' injuries, I can
see why it was unnecessary and also inappropriate to present it in public.
Nevertheless I remain puzzled, at the very least, about some omissions,
which no doubt reflect differences in the details wanted by Cullen and
the details that I thought I needed to know.
First of all, there is
the link between Dunblane and Thomas
actions were well planned, and we can assume that he deliberately targeted
Dunblane. He seemed particularly drawn
to the town and had involvement with a number of its residents.
Yet the evidence on this was selective. An inquiry
aimed at getting to the heart of a problem should have explored all
the links. We know, for example, from what Lord Ewing
told the House of Lords, that Hamilton's
problems with Dunblane went as far back as
1971. Lord Ewing regarded this
old Dunblane connection to be important and
concluded his speech by saying:
My reason for explaining
all this is that in my humble opinion, honestly and sincerely expressed
- I am in a minority of one - the Dunblane
situation has been completely misread. Hamilton's
perceived problems were all based in Dunblane.
They were not firearms problems at all. They were perceived
as related to the town; everything that happened to Hamilton
had the Dunblane background to it.
The events he described
never came to light at the Inquiry.
Lord Ewing has told me that he didn't volunteer
to give evidence because he didn't want to distress the families further,
but nothing he revealed would have caused us any greater upset.
He was also concerned that it all happened a long time ago and, given
the close proximity of the Inquiry to the
massacre, might be seen as a diversion. But
this wasn't thought to be the case with Hamilton's
dealings with the Scouts in 1974. Was it the town of Dunblane
itself that didn't want to be distressed? A number of townsfolk,
including its councillors, had known Thomas Hamilton
more recently - they'd told the media as much - but none of them was
called to give evidence to shed more light on Hamilton's
relationship with the town. Was this omission simply an example
of over-sensitivity towards the feelings of a community or individuals
within it? I'd like to know more.
There are other gaps. Neither
of the chief constables who were in charge of Central Scotland Police
during the period of Hamilton's gun licensing was called to the stand.
Wilson's absence was even more surprising, given the criticism of his
force's operations on the day of the shootings. I've also been
puzzled why there was no evidence from the university secretary who'd
typed Hamilton's letters. She knew what he was writing and
might have provided valuable insights into his state of mind; others
who'd seen him less often were questioned on this. While not suggesting
there are sinister reasons behind this, I'm questioning whether, with
such omissions, an Inquiry can be considered thorough. Another
question mark hangs over Cullen's willingness to state in his Report
that he was "satisfied that he (Hamilton) was not a member of the
when very little evidence was presented on this. LINK
Discrepancies and deficiencies in the gun registration process were
not fully explored, giving the gun lobby an opportunity to criticise
the conduct of the Inquiry.
If establishing the truth
is one of the prime aims of a public inquiry then no avenues should
be closed off. At the Dunblane Inquiry constraints were in place
that prevented a complete exploration of the role of the Scottish prosecution
service, the Procurators Fiscal. LINK
They had failed to proceed with charges against Hamilton on a
number of occasions and although they are independent of the police
service, the Procurators' actions did affect how Central Scotland Police
The lack of charges was cited by DCC McMurdo as one of the reasons why
he felt unable to revoke Hamilton's firearms licence. At the Inquiry
the Crown argued that the Procurators Fiscal should not be subjected
to indepth questioning, an argument which was accepted by Lord Cullen. Regardless
of whether anything new would have been revealed, the barriers placed
by the legal system on the questioning of "their own" suggest
that public inquiries can never be entirely open. The establishment
boat can never be rocked too much.
This was also exemplified
by theInquiry's attitude towards the discrepancies
between the police and the parents in the
times we were told of our children's deaths. Had there been a ruthless
determination to establish the truth and to demonstrate that only the
whole truth was acceptable, then those police
officers who'd distorted the times ought to have been recalled to the
stand to explain the discrepancy.
about that expectation of justice, the matter of accountability?
Cullen's Report sets out a number of recommendations,
none of which deal with accountability for the events surrounding the
massacre. It has been too easy
for those criticised in the Report to duck their responsibilities by
saying that the matter has already been dealt with by Cullen. Lord
Cullen did not and could not implement his own recommendations,
and neither was he responsible for following up any of the criticisms
he made. The response required those parties criticised, whether
individuals or the management of organisations, to act honourably and
consider their positions. As I'll detail in the following chapter,
no one from Central Scotland Police accepted
responsibility. Both "watchdogs", Her Majesty's
Inspectorate of Constabulary and the local Joint Police
Board, were content to say afterwards that matters had been dealt with
by Lord Cullen. They hadn't been.
In this respect the outcome of the Public Inquiry
was far from satisfactory.
Is there a way of remedying
this? One way would be to give the responsibility of following
up a public inquiry to a body, independent of the Government, with the
power to enforce a response from the agencies involved. Some
issues will always be within the political arena and a response to them
dependent on legislative changes that only Parliament can deliver.
But there are other issues that slip throught the net, especially if
they are the subject of criticism within the Report, rather than matters
dealt with as specific recommendations. An independent body might
ensure that parties criticised do not "get away with it" by
failing to respond.
When Lord Cullen
agreed in October 1999 to take charge of the Inquiry
into the rail crash at Ladbroke Grove, most commentators again remarked
on the suitability of his appointment. Some, however, raised doubts.
Dave Whyte, an academic who has taken a keen interest in the Piper
Alpha Inquiry, wrote:
Amidst the intense debate
and controversy that has followed the Ladbroke Grove disaster there
is one point that appears to have united all of the protagonists: Lord
Cullen is unquestionably the best choice to head the public
inquiry. But the appointment of Lord
Cullen actually tells us more about the role expected
of him than it does about his ability to produce a report that will
prevent another Ladbroke Grove. Cullen
was chosen to head this inquiry because he is a safe bet.
He is pragmatic, business-friendly and, most of all, he can be trusted
not to unsettle the agenda that has already been set by government.
At the Piper
Alpha inquiry he accepted, almost exclusively, the evidence
of the oil companies on the shape of the safety regime that was to regulate
them. The trade unions represented at the inquiry
opposed any moves toward self-regulation.
The oil companies had good
reason to be pleased with the outcome of the Cullen inquiry
into Piper Alpha. The trade unions,
the Piper Alpha families association and the
public had good reason to believe the inquiry
was a stitch-up.
by limiting the state's response to the problem of oil rig safety to
the structure of the regulatory regimen, also allowed attention to be
deflected away from the possibility of a criminal prosecution.
pieces of evidence carry more weight than others because the inquiry
is working towards some pre-determined agenda, whether this is damage
limitation or finding a scapegoat, the process provides little more
than a piece of theatre. .LINK
In the case of the Dunblane Inquiry, it allowed establishment figures
and the institutions, from the gun lobby to the police, from politicians
to administrators, the opportunity to act out how exasperated they had
been with Hamilton and how they weren't really to blame for anything
that happened. Cullen appeared unwilling to challenge the overall
status quo. The police could be criticised, but there'd be no
specific recommendation for accountability. Gun safety could
be tightened, but only in a way that would allow shooting to continue.
With the door left ajar, it wouldn't be too long before the shooters
could push it wide open.
When all is said and done
the Cullen Report, the most public outcome of the Inquiry, represented
the opinion of one man, albeit a fair and decent one, but nevertheless
one man with an establishment perspective. LINK
Surely there is a case for having the opinions of more than one person
contribute to such an important document?
We should be grateful that
the aftermath of the Dunblane massacre provided
one of those rare occasions when, in spite of the Inquiry's
recommendations, politicians were willing to grasp the nettle and change
things for the public good. It is surely time to have a detailed
review of the make-up and role of public inquiries. A
fundamental question to be asked will be: "Which public do they