Map: Dunblane, Scotland
On March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton, 43, left his home at 7 Kent Road in Dunblane, Scotland, with only one thing in mind — murder. At about 9:30 a.m., he drove to the Dunblane Primary School with a pair of pliers, four handguns and more than 700 rounds of ammunition. Once there, he cut the telephone wires on a nearby pole and then proceeded with weapons in hand to a side entrance of the school.
Dunblane City sign
Hamilton burst into the assembly hall, where a class of 5- and 6-year-old children was having gym lessons and opened fire. He first shot at several of the teachers. Hamilton then turned his guns on the frightened children and shot at them as they tried to scramble to safety under chairs and inside closets. Screams echoed through the gymnasium as tiny bodies sunk to the floor in pools of blood.
Hamilton momentarily stepped outside the gym into a hallway where there were other classrooms and open fired again. Several more people were struck down before Hamilton returned to the gym and began shooting again. He then put the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. He died instantaneously, leaving behind a ghastly trail of death and devastation.
The brutal rampage left 17 people murdered, including one teacher and 16 children. Another 17 would survive the horrifying incident but be haunted with nightmares for the rest of their lives. The sleepy, rural town was forever changed by the horrors of that day. It was considered one of the deadliest massacres in recent history.
Families of the victims and community residents were shocked by the senseless slaughter that claimed so many innocent lives and scarred the survivors, physically and emotionally. According to John Smiths March 1996 article for The People, of the thousands of cards sent to the school to commemorate those who had died, one best described what was on most peoples minds, Why them! Why Them! Unfortunately, the only one who could answer the question was dead.
All the authorities could do was look back into Hamiltons life and search for possible clues. They hoped that some insight into his character might help them prevent such a massacre from ever happening again. What they learned about Hamilton was troubling.
Thomas Hamilton was born on May 10, 1952 at Glasgow Maternity Hospital in Scotland. At the time of his birth his parents, Thomas Watt and Agnes Graham Hamilton, were already divorced. They had been married for only one and a half years. According to Kevin Mansis March 1996 article in the Scottish Daily Record & Sunday, Watt left his family for another woman while Agnes was pregnant. Consequently, Hamilton never got a chance to get to know his natural father.
Agnes, who worked as a hotel chambermaid at the time, had difficulty making ends meet. She decided to move in with her adoptive parents in Cranhill, Scotland. She hoped that she could save some money and provide a stable family environment for her son while there.
When Hamilton was two, his grandparents adopted him. Thinking it would be in the childs best interest, they led him to believe that they were his natural parents. Hamilton was also told that his biological mother was actually his sister, a story which he believed until he was told the truth in 1974.
Hamilton lived with his grandparents in Glasgows East End until they moved to Stirling when he was 12 years old. He later moved with his grandparents to a house on Kent Road. While there, Hamilton attended the local schools and performed well academically.
However, his real interests as a teenager were divided between an area rifle club and the Boys Brigade. His fascination with guns and the boys club preoccupied him for most of his teenage years and his adult life. In fact, his hobbies became a kind of obsession.
When Hamilton was in his mid-20s, he obtained a firearms certificate and started collecting firearms. In 1977 alone, he bought and sold five guns. He continued to buy even more as the years progressed. Moreover, to enhance his firing skills, he became a member of several area gun clubs where he would diligently practice.
Thomas Hamilton camping as scout leader
Hamilton also became increasingly involved in the Boy Scouts during the 1970s. In 1973 he was appointed an Assistant Scout Leader of a Stirling scout troop. During that time, there were several serious complaints made against him, which cast doubt on his leadership abilities.
That winter, Hamilton took a scouting troop made up of about a dozen boys to the Scottish Highlands of Aviemore. When they arrived there, their van broke down. With no lodging in sight, Hamilton and the boys were forced to spend the night huddled together in the vehicle in freezing temperatures.
Several weeks later Hamilton led another troop of scouts on a winter expedition, which was meant to test the youngsters survival abilities. However, Hamiltons test went far beyond the scouting limits to the point of danger. Many of the young boys returned home wet and suffering from mild hypothermia.
The boys parents and scout leaders were outraged by Hamiltons recklessness. The county and district commissioners asked Hamilton to resign. Yet, Hamilton didnt think he did anything wrong and was angered that his leadership abilities were thrown into question.
Consequently, he fired off several letters of complaint to Scotlands Scout Association and Headquarters. He even demanded an inquiry into the events. However, there was no getting around the fact that Hamilton jeopardized the boys safety and he was eventually forced to tender his resignation.
With more time on his hands, Hamilton spent much of it working at his do-it-yourself shop, Woodcraft, which he established in 1972. Yet, after a while his business started to collapse as product sales decreased. He then turned his attention towards establishing a new business.
Hamilton decided to set up a series of boys clubs in and around Stirling and Dunblane. The projects preoccupied him for the remainder of his short life. They would also lead to the destruction of his reputation within the community.
Thomas Hamilton, gym assistant
Hamilton started up a number of boys clubs throughout the 1970s and 1980s, many of which targeted children between the ages of 7 and 11. He often rented out or borrowed space at local schools or gymnasiums where he organized a wide range of club activities, such as football, gymnastics, swimming and target practice. Hamiltons clubs were often popular and attracted many members. However, over time membership rapidly declined because of his increasingly strange behavior.
Many of the boys who attended the clubs complained that Hamilton often drilled them like a sadistic boot camp instructor. He would make the boys do things that made them feel uncomfortable and would pay them off to keep them quiet. The complaints were so numerous that local police investigated Hamiltons clubs.
Jonathan Russell wrote in his March 1996 article for The Mirror that Hamilton enjoyed disciplining his boys and expected them to obey his every command. Russell further stated that one of the boys mothers complained that they were forced to rub suntan oil all over [Hamiltons] naked body as he writhed and groaned in ecstasy. As the complaints streamed in, it became increasingly clear that Hamilton was a pervert.
Hamilton was proud of his boys. He was so full of pride that his house was adorned with pictures of them in scant bathing suits, which he demanded they wear. However, when the police investigated his residence following the many complaints they were unable to find any clear evidence that proved he was doing anything unlawful. Russell quoted a former police constable who said that the pictures were not considered pornographic because, the boys had their pants on.
Just as disconcerting was the fact that Hamilton not only engaged in perverted activities with the boys but he also taught many of them to use rifles and handguns during summer camping trips. Paul Gilfeathers March 1996 article in the Scottish Daily Record & Sunday suggested that youngsters were sometimes dropped off on an island, supplied with guns and encouraged to shoot at any animal they saw. Gilfeather also reported that evening activities during the trips consisted of the boys being whipped with a steel rod before having lotion rubbed into their bodies. One of the boys quoted in the article claimed that, thats the only time [Hamilton] touched us but he would rub the lotion on us really hard. He then paid the boys to keep quiet.
Hamiltons behavior facilitated rumors that he was a depraved pedophile. A Scotsman News article by Dan McDougall indicated that Detective Sergeant Paul Hughes, the former head of Central Scotland Polices child protection unit, wrote a damning report in which he recommended that Hamiltons gun license be revoked because of his unsavory character and unstable personality. However, no action was taken because there was no concrete evidence of any wrongdoing. Thus, he was free to continue running his boys clubs.
When the rumors got too bad, an enraged Hamilton would send letters of complaint to authority figures within the community claiming that he was not perverted and that he was being victimized. He also sent letters, which were described by many as threatening, to teachers and the families of the boys who spoke ill of the clubs and discouraged attendance. At one point, he even sent letters of protest to the Queen complaining of his unfair treatment.
Hamilton believed there was a conspiracy to bring him down. He blamed not only the teachers and parents, but also scout officials and the police for circulating the negative rumors about him. Hamiltons infuriation eventually led to the horrific events of March 13, 1996. It was then that he exacted his revenge on the community that strived to protect their children.
Following the massacre, Dunblane residents and families of the victims demanded answers. They wanted to know how such a disaster could have occurred in their small community. In response to their pleas, a public inquiry was held. One of the primary questions Lord Cullen sought to answer was what circumstances led up to the shootings? He also assessed ways to better safeguard the public in the future against the misuse of firearms.
The investigation, based mostly on police reports and the testimony of those who were familiar with Hamilton, proved to be an invaluable source of information. Investigators learned that Hamilton organized and ran approximately 16 boys clubs between the 1970s and mid-1990s, most of which were unsupervised. Moreover, it was discovered that Hamilton wasnt even properly qualified to instruct the boys in many of the activities he arranged for members. This raised questions as to why he was allowed to continue running the boys clubs in the first place.
During the investigation, Hamiltons true character was further revealed when some of the boys testified of his mistreatment of them. They told of how they were coerced into stripping down to their swimming trunks so that photographs could be taken of them, many of which focused on the groin area. If a youngster complained, Hamilton would belittle them. When confronted by parents or the authorities about the pictures, Hamilton would exclaim that they were taken for advertising purposes even though he kept most of them for his own enjoyment.
According to Cullens 1996 report, there was only evidence of two incidents, which suggested Hamilton was possibly a pedophile. He stated that a 12-year-old testified that Hamilton sat down close to him and rubbed him on the inside of his leg. Yet, the incident was brushed aside and no report was ever filed.
Cullen stated that another 12-year-old boy testified anonymously that he was sexually abused. The boy claimed that Hamilton inappropriately touched his private parts and anally assaulted him with his fingers. However, Cullen had difficulty accepting the testimony because he did not have an opportunity to cross-examine the boy who had in the past been convicted of a serious crime of dishonesty.
Thomas Hamilton’s home in Dunblane
During the inquiry evidence was brought forth which suggested that Hamilton planned the school massacre well in advance. Less than six months prior to the shooting, Hamilton purchased more guns and ammunition than ever before. His attendance at gun clubs drastically increased and he spent countless hours trying to improve his shooting accuracy. It was likely that Hamilton was preparing in advance to carry out his murderous rampage.
According to a June 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday article by Allison McLaughlin, Hamilton might have even been planning the school shooting two years prior to the actual event. Moreover, there was evidence that he sought to exact his revenge on not just the one class but as many as four classes. The proof came in the way of written testimony given by an anonymous 9-year-old boy who had previously been a member at one of Hamiltons clubs.
McLaughlin said that Hamilton quizzed the boy, every week for two years about the layout of the gym and the school routine. Hamilton allegedly asked specific information such as directions around the school and to the gym, when grades one to four assembled in the gym, how many fire exits there were and other details concerning the daily routines of the school. Hamilton questioned the boy up until a week before the massacre.
Those who spoke with Hamilton in the days leading up to the shootings claimed that he didnt act out of character immediately prior to the event. Russell quoted Hamiltons mother who said that when she saw her son the night before the shootings he seemed all right. He allegedly gave no indication of what he was going to do the following day.
Facing the Unimaginable
Ron Taylor, Dunblane headmaster
One of the first to arrive at the tragic scene was Dunblane Primary Schools headmaster, Ron Taylor, who was quickly followed by school staff members. What they witnessed was so heart wrenching and horrific that it defied comprehension. Yet, they could not let their emotions hinder what had to be done. The staff was immediately thrown into action trying to help the children and teachers. They tended to the wounds of the injured and comforted the dying until emergency personnel arrived approximately 15 minutes later.
Mrs. Gwen Mayor, teacher & victim
According to Raymond Notarangelos article in The Mirror, when they happened upon the body of teacher Mrs. Gwen Mayor, 45, it appeared as if she had been trying to shield youngsters from the gunfire. In fact, she had given her life to protect as many as she could. Two other teachers, including Mrs. Mary Blake and Mrs. Eileen Harrild, were also in the gym at the time of the shooting. As the bullets rained down upon them, the women desperately tried to shield the children, even though they too had suffered serious gunshot wounds. It is likely there would have been more casualties if it were not for their heroism.
Moments later, ambulance crews and police converged on the school. Doctors and paramedics treated many at the scene and others with more severe wounds were rushed to the Stirling Royal Infirmary for immediate treatment. The police cordoned off the area to ensure that emergency personnel could get through easily.
Officer outside Dunblane school gym
Amidst the chaos, frantic parents crowded around the school wondering if their children were amongst the dead or wounded. Most didnt hear any news about the fate of their kin until later that afternoon. The police wanted to be sure that they had an accurate listing of the wounded or dead before they revealed any information. The waiting was unbearable.
Teacher & class, school photo
According to USA Today, one mother was so desperate that she broke through the police lines and ran into the school. The woman fainted on the gym floor when she found her dead daughter who had been shot in the neck. She was one of many whose lives were torn apart by the senseless tragedy.
A March 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday article recorded that pathologist Anthony Busuttil was put in charge of organizing the grim task of examining those who had perished in the massacre and informing the families of their deaths. Most of the victims suffered from one to seven gunshot wounds and the severity of the injuries was worse than anything hed ever seen.
Professor Anthony Busuttil
Professor Busuttil was also in charge of performing a post mortem on Hamilton. According to the Scottish Daily Record & Sunday, he conducted extensive tests to find any clues as to why Hamilton committed such a ghastly crime. He looked for evidence of a brain tumor, alcohol, drugs, viral infection and even lead poisoning, yet he was unable to find any physical explanation for his murderous behavior. It was clear that Hamiltons problems were based on unknown psychological factors. No one will ever know why Hamilton did what he did. It is a mystery which he has carried with him to the grave.
Queen Elizabeth II & Princess Anne visit Dunblane
Less than a week following the massacre, Dunblane made preparations to bury their dead. Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne traveled to the small town to meet with the families of the victims and the survivors. A March 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday article said that the Queen wept openly when she spoke with the parents about their children. She, like many around the world, sympathized for the families and mourned the great loss of life.
Cemetery statue for Dunblane victims
On March 18, 1996, Great Britain stood still to observe one minute of silence in commemoration for those that died in the Dunblane massacre. The silence marked the beginning of a weeklong procession of funerals. According to Smith, many of the deceased were interned in a specially dedicated area in Dunblane cemetery.
Gun Law Campaign
Prime Minister John Major
Following the massacre, many of the victims families and other community residents campaigned to tighten existing gun laws and ban private ownership of handguns. They took their fight all the way to Downing Street where they met with then-Prime Minister John Major to discuss the issue. An April 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday article stated that, the group handed over a petition urging tighter controls in the wake of the tragedy. The article further stated that 428,279 concerned citizens signed the petition, an enormous response by any standards. It was clear that British citizens were unhappy with the existing gun laws.
Months later, legislation was passed that banned handguns over .22-caliber. In 1998, the ban was further extended to include smaller caliber handguns. Handgun owners who handed in their guns were fully compensated by the government. A September 1998 Evening News article said that the new rules required those applying for a gun to nominate two referees to testify in support of their having a license. Great Britain quickly earned the reputation as having some of the strictest gun laws in the world.
Not everyone was happy with the new firearm controls. According to an August 1998 article in The Birmingham Evening Mail, the handgun bans severely affected gun retailers, gun clubs and pistol shooting sports. Moreover, many gun advocates complained that a majority of gun related crimes involved weapons sold on the black market and rarely guns held by licensed owners.
Gill Marshall-Andrews of the Gun Control Network was quoted in Philip Johnstons July 2001 Daily Telegraph article stating that almost all illegal guns start out legal, so its not easy to draw a neat line between the two. Marshall-Andrews further suggested that the gun laws should remain tough in order to keep gun crime down. Yet, Johnston claimed that a study from the Center for Defense Studies in London found there to be no link between the legal possession of guns and their use by criminals and in the two years following the handgun ban crime actually increased by 40 per cent.
Since the study, the Dunblane gun laws were considered by many to be a failure. By summer 2004, Britains Conservative Party called for a review into firearms laws. According to a May 2004 Daily Record article, the Tories wanted to ease the law banning handguns and make it legal to use them in lawful shooting sports. However, some feared that easing the laws would cause more harm than good, possibly leading to an upsurge in gun-related crimes. Most believed that remaining strict on firearms was the only way to prevent another incident like that which occurred in Dunblane from ever happening again.
The 100-Year Ban
At around the same time the victims families were challenging gun laws they were also campaigning for more information concerning Hamilton. McDougall claimed that Lord Cullen made a decision to withhold sensitive information from public eyes by enforcing a 100-year closure order on evidence relating to Hamiltons activities prior to the Dunblane massacre. According to Tamzin Lewis article Hidden Secrets of the Dunblane Massacre, the evidence included police reports concerning abuse allegations at the boys clubs, Hamiltons purported links with the Freemasonry and reports about his use and possession of firearms. The victims families challenged the 100-year ban because they believed that the public had a right to view the documents.
Officials insisted that the ban was instated only to protect the identities of the children named in the reports. However, Neil Mackay stated in his March 2003 Sunday Herald article that there were only a handful of documents that related to children or named alleged abuse victims. Many believed that the ban was illegal and was actually instated to protect high-level officials, such as local police and authorities, from wrongdoing.
Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC
To allay suspicions, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC allowed the release of four police reports from between 1988 to 1993. Yet, denied making public a further 106 separate files relating to Hamiltons activities. Instead of alleviating suspicions, the move only increased speculations that officials were trying to cover-up critical evidence.
McDougall quoted Frank Blake, the husband of Dunblane massacre survivor Mary Blake, as saying, They have not divulged the whole lot and we want everything to be made public. He was further quoted saying, We want to know what is so important in these papers, what do they have to hide from public view? Other family members of the victims had similar reactions. However, despite their complaints, the documents have not yet been released.
In March 2004, Dr. Mick North, parent of deceased Dunblane victim Sophie North, brought forth new allegations of a possible cover-up. According to Marcello Megas article, Dunblane Cover-up, North listed six key points that the Cullen Inquiry failed to address, which included:
- The failure to hear evidence from Catherine Kerr, a neighbor of Hamiltons, who saw him emerge from a gray-colored car outside his home on the morning of the shootings. The driver has never been traced.
- The failure to account for Hamiltons exact movements from the time he left his home to drive to Dunblane Primary School, a 15 minute journey that took him more than three quarters of an hour.
- Why an off-duty police officer who was mysteriously at the school on the morning of the shootings was never called to give evidence.
- The failure by police to identify Hamilton as a pedophile who was almost certainly involved in supplying photographs of virtually naked boys, which he took on camps.
- The failure to establish who Hamiltons friends in the police were. A number of witnesses testified that police cars often stopped outside his home.
- The failure to investigate links, revealed by three witnesses, between Hamilton and the Queen Victoria School, a military school at Dunblane with a small shooting range that Hamilton used and where it is claimed by a former teacher that boys were abused.
The accusations have prompted a call for a new inquiry into Hamilton, the shootings and the investigations conducted by the authorities. The families of the victims have demanded public access to all of the information available concerning Hamilton. It is only then that they might finally be able to put to rest the nightmare that has haunted them for almost a decade.
Abigail McLennan, Brett McKinnon, Charlotte Dunn, David Kerr (Victims)
Emily Morton, Emma Crozier, Hannah Scott, Joanna Ross (Victims)
John Petrie, Kevin Hasell, Megan Turner, Melissa Currie (Victims)
Mhairi McBeath, Ross Irvine, Sophie North, Victoria Clydesdale (Victims)