Emotions ran high
as a senior officer was grilled on gun
It was merciful. Lord
Cullen's inquiry into
the killings at Dunblane was close enough
to the daily finishing time that Colin Campbell QC
was able to say he would continue questioning the witness in the
representing the families of the 16 children murdered by Thomas
Hamilton, had seen that the senior police
officer he had been grilling for the last three hours was on the
verge of breaking down.
McMurdo, former deputy chief constable
of Central Police, had arrived at the
inquiry in Albert Halls, Stirling,
on Thursday morning. About 10 minutes before he took the
stand he met with the force's solicitor,
James Taylor, and was shown where he
would be sitting while giving evidence and from where the questions
would be fired.
As the senior police
officer who signed Hamilton's firearms
certificates in 1989 and 1995 and corresponded at
length with him over his various complaints against the force,
it was clear McMurdo was going to be
giving evidence for some time.
led Lord Cullen to agree to the concession
of a mid-morning break adjournment to give the witness a break,
the first time in 12 days of evidence there had been any change
to the routine.
was at the end of almost five hours in the witness chair on Thursday
that McMurdo, 55, now promoted to the
post of assistant to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector
of Constabulary, broke down in the most open display
of emotion by any of the 100-plus witnesses who have so far given
There had been no
real clue of what was to come. He had coped confidently
with some tough questions put by the Crown's
senior counsel, Ian Bonomy QC.
There had been raised
voices in the rapid exchanges between the two and the occasional
indignant yes or no answer, but silver-haired McMurdo,
leaning slightly forward on the elbows of his dark-coloured suit,
had appeared in control.
Then at 12.39pm Campbell
took over and as the afternoon wore on the questions began to
get more personal: "You were the officer ultimately responsible
for issuing Hamilton's firearms
certificate?" and "Since the awful tragedy
have you gone over events [leading up to granting Hamilton's
certificate] in your own mind?" to which McMurdo
replied: "It's never been out [of my mind]."
unnerves witnesses. After asking questions, the QC
avoids eye contact with the subjects of his interrogation preferring
instead to look at papers, whisper with colleague Laura
Dunlop QC or pour himself a glass of mineral water.
But when McMurdo,
55, faltered just after 4.15pm, Campbell's
eyes flicked back to him. The QC
had asked a rambling question about whether people spending their
leisure time using guns outweighed the risks
of such weapons being readily available. Choking on his
answer, McMurdo turned to face Campbell,
his head slumped down towards the floor and he pushed his spectacles
back up over his eyes where tears were forming. Catching himself,
he said: "I'm sorry," before blurting out almost inaudibly:
"I think we could ban them [guns]
before suffering another tragedy like
Granted an early
release by Campbell, McMurdo
found his composure again within seconds, leaping to his feet,
smiling and laughing with colleagues.
He even remembered
to thank the man who held open the passenger door of the white
Vauxhall Vectra which whisked him away from the Albert
Halls a few minutes later with a screech of tyres
to outpace the television cameraman running alongside. McMurdo
was back to complete his evidence on Friday but there was nothing
approaching the tension and drama of the previous day.
The third week of
the inquiry had been largely taken up
with police officers involved with Hamilton's
applications for firearms certificates,
from the beat officer who went through the form with him to McMurdo
who signed the documents.
told the inquiry he knew as much about
Hamilton as any officer. He
was involved in dealing with the complaints Hamilton
made about police investigations into
his boys' camps. He met him only once. Like many others,
he became embroiled in long-running correspondence with Hamilton
about grievances and also received copies of letters he sent to
local MP Michael
The tedious nature
of the relationship taking up so much of his time finally exploded
in 1992 when McMurdo fired off an angry
letter to the Scottish Office. In the letter dated January
14, McMurdo wrote: "Hamilton
is a bitter and petty-minded individual and over almost four years
I have received his ever more emotional outpourings. Like
dealing with a zealot, he re-introduces points again and again
and I can see his correspondence continuing indefinitely. This
is something I am not prepared to do."
At the inquiry
last week, McMurdo admitted he had "lost
his cool" when he wrote the letter but none of his knowledge
of Hamilton was enough to prevent his
firearms certificate being renewed just
a few months later.
knew about him was related to boys' camps. There was no
evidence he would be dangerous with a firearm," McMurdo
said. When Hamilton's firearms
certificate was last renewed in 1995, McMurdo
said he only spent a few minutes looking over the application
before signing it.
This week the inquiry
will examine Hamilton's contacts with