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
public process. 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?
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. 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. 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)
a member of the masons", when
little evidence was presented on this. Discrepancies
and deficiencies in the gun registration process were not fully explored,
giving the gun lobby an opportunity to criticise the conduct of the
If establishing the truth
is one of the prime aims of a public inquiry
then no avenues should be closed off. At the Dunblane
were in place that prevented a complete exploration of the
role of the Scottish prosecution service, the Procurators Fiscal.
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 behaved. 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 the Inquiry'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
piece of theatre. 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
one, but nevertheless one man with an establishment perspective. 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