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 morning.
Campbell, 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.
Douglas 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.
That realisation 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.
It 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 evidence.
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, Iain 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]."
Campbell 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 this."
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.
McMurdo 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 Forsyth. LINK
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.
"Everthing I 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 local authorities.