[Ed ~ The
bodies of the victims of the Dunblane massacre hardly had a chance
to grow cold when the wheels were set in motion to appoint the "right"
judge tailored for the Dunblane Inquiry whitewash.]
The Dunblane Files
Scottish Political Editor
Sunday 8 January 2012
THE Scottish Secretary at the time
of the Dunblane massacre wanted to avoid an "over-reaction"
by having the "right judge" lead the subsequent public inquiry,
according to previously secret files in the National Archives of Scotland.
[Ed ~ NAS was previously
the Scottish Record Office before changing its name on 7 January 1999
to the "National Records of Scotland". As with the
various regional police departments that amalgamated to become Police
Scotland, the sins of the erstwhile structures will not be conveniently
buried by simply changing its moniker. LINK]
New files from the National Archives have cast light
on the aftermath of the tragedy.
Michael Forsyth made the point in a memo to the
then prime minister John Major on the morning after the tragedy LINK,
in which gunman Thomas Hamilton killed 16 pupils and their teacher
at Dunblane Primary School before killing himself. LINK
After Dunblane, some Conservative ministers were
worried about a crackdown on firearms affecting the "field sports
lobby", other files show. LINK
The documents were made public this week under Scotland's
15-year-rule, which opens official files in half the time of Whitehall's
30 years. In a memo, Incident at Dunblane Primary School dated
March 14, 1996, Forsyth refers to talks with Lord Advocate Lord Mackay
of Drumadoon, head of Scotland's prosecution service.
Both agreed that, while the law demanded only a fatal
accident inquiry under a sheriff, that was inadequate given "the
very considerable public concern about the character and behaviour
of the gunman in this case".
The correct response, Forsyth said, would be a judge-led
inquiry with a "simple remit".
He went on: "The Lord Advocate and I consider
that the judge concerned may find it necessary to address questions
relating to the way in which firearms legislation is applied in practice;
about security of school premises; and about the supervision of voluntary
"I think we have to allow these matters to be
exposed to public scrutiny, and I have confidence that, providing
the right judge is selected, we need not fear any over-reaction on
Later that day, Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, the highly
respected judge who led the inquiry into the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster
in which 167 North Sea oil rig workers died, was appointed. LINK
Documents show Lord Cullen wanted
to stay in touch with ministers during his independent inquiry.
In a "restricted" email about a March 15
meeting between Lord Cullen LINK,
Lord Mackay, and Scotland's top judge, Lord Hope LINK
[Ed ~ Two of them, at least, are members of the exclusive,
secretive and highly suspect, Masonic Speculative Society of Edinburgh
a Scottish Office official said Lord Cullen wanted the terms of reference
kept simple, as this would "leave open the possibility of a 'side
letter' giving him some guidance on the extent to which the Secretary
of State wished him to pursue enquiries [Ed
~ "avoid" enquiries would be more appropriate.] in
certain areas or to report with recommendations ... In short, he is
sympathetic to the idea of receiving a certain amount of 'direction'".
[Ed ~ It was supposed to be a "Public"
Inquiry, not an inquiry controlled and blemished by politicians and
establishment figures who have a vested interest in supervising how
the sham would be orchestrated.]
On March 21, Forysth hosted a supper at Bute House
for Lords Cullen and Mackay about the inquiry.
An official recorded: "Lord Cullen said he would
find it helpful to be kept in touch with developments in government
thinking on relevant issues and hoped it would be possible to have
regular meetings on policy issues" and "might at some stage
wish to come to see" Forsyth.
For his part, Forysth wanted "practical recommendations
which the government could implement, with all-party agreement".
By July, Forsyth appeared anxious about the Home
Office watering down firearm controls.
"The Cullen report will be a matter for the
Scottish to handle; but I fear that the Home Office will try to take
over those parts of it which relate to firearms," Forsyth's permanent
secretary, Russell Hillhouse, reported.
"[Forsyth] does not want to accept a cautious
Home Office line only to find that it collapses under public pressure."
Ahead of Lord Cullen reporting, Forsyth had a series
of meetings with Cabinet colleagues to discuss possible responses.
The minute of a September meeting with Education
Secretary Gillian Shephard recorded Forsyth's "disquiet"
about someone being able to keep a large number of handguns and ammunition
But Shephard felt "most gun owners were not
unstable, introverted individuals ... she saw a need to reassure the
field sports lobby that their legitimate use of firearms was not under
Lord Cullen's report in October 1996 recommended
tighter control of handgun ownership, changes to school security and
the vetting of people working with children.
The Tory government introduced a ban on handguns
with the exception of .22-calibre single-shot weapons in England,
Scotland and Wales.
After New Labour won the 1997 General Election, it
extended to the ban to the .22 guns.
PART TWO: letters of sympathy.
A SERIES of heart-rending letters to and from the
families of the Dunblane victims have been made public by the National
Archives of Scotland.
They include letters from Michael Forsyth, the then
Conservative Scottish Secretary, to the parents of the 16 P1 children
killed by Thomas Hamilton, and to the widower of their dead teacher,
"I know that nothing I can write can bring any
real comfort in your grief," Forsyth told the parents.
"But I feel I must try to convey to you the
sense of love, sympathy and support which all parents – indeed,
all who have been touched by last week's tragedy – are feeling
for you now.
"I know that you would have had great hopes
for [the child's] future – hopes cruelly dashed in an instant
of senseless violence. The sense of loss will never leave you.
"I hope that you may draw comfort and solace
from the support of a community which has taken all of the bereaved
families to its heart.
"If there is anything at all which [my wife
and I] can do to help you in your time of sorrow, you know that you
have only to ask."
Other letters were sent to the heads of the emergency
services and local health boards.
"We are all in your debt," Forysth told
them. Forsyth also wrote to Prime Minister John Major after he and
his wife Norma visited Dunblane with other politicians in the days
after the shooting.
"I should tell you how much your presence -
was appreciated by all those affected by the terrible events of last
Wednesday," Forsyth wrote.
"Your sympathy and support are greatly valued
by everyone in the community, which will need every assistance to
sustain it as people seek to look forward once again."
He then added a handwritten postscript: "Please
pass on our thanks to Norma who was marvellous. It cannot have
been easy for her."
The files also include emotional letters from foreign
heads of state to the prime minister.
Russian president Boris Yeltsin asked for his sincere
condolences to be passed to families of the victims "of this
He wrote: "To the depth of my soul I am shocked
by the tragedy - The monstrosity of a cruel and senseless murder of
innocent pupils and their teacher produced a reaction of pain and
compassion in Russia. We mourn together with the British people."
Shimon Peres, then the prime minister of Israel and
now its president, wrote: "I was deeply pained when I heard the
news. There are no words to describe the lowest depth of this
barbaric act. The horror is almost too great to perceive."
Nelson Mandela, then South Africa's president, expressed
his "sympathy and dismay at the heartbreaking tragedy".
He added: "Our thoughts and prayers are with
the families of the children and their teacher who met such an untimely
PART THREE: warning of 'honours bitterness'
OFFICIALS blocked a plan to honour people affected
by the Dunblane tragedy, warning it could sow bitterness in the community.
Files from the National Archives show Tory Scottish Secretary Michael
Forsyth wanted to "press ahead urgently" with honours for
those involved in the incident.
On March 18, 1996, five days after the killings,
his office wanted to bypass "normal procedures" and bestow
honours through the Queen's forthcoming Birthday Honours list.
However, the idea led to warnings from the Cabinet
Office's ceremonial branch, who said past experience showed it was
best to wait some time.
Ceremonial officer Anthony Merifield wrote: "In
this context I suspect that 'anger' could be directed towards some
of the survivors ('why you and not my child or husband or wife?')
and in such a complex emotional situation time lends perspective to
all parties – including those who have to consider whether it
would be fitting to accept an award when others are so damaged around
Sir Russell Hillhouse, the top official at the Scottish
Office, then wrote a memo to Forsyth, saying it would be "very
unwise to rush to a decision".
In a handwritten note on the memo, Forsyth backed
down: "I'm sure you're right on this."
View the Herald/Scotland article as it appeared
in the press followed by the Michael Forsyth memo to Prime Minister
John Major. LINK