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.
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.
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, Iain Bonomy
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
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]."
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
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
"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
This week the inquiry
will examine Hamilton's contacts with local authorities.