Friday, March 12, 2021

The Dunblane Massacre


The 13th of March 2021 will be the 25th anniversary of The Dunblane Massacre where fifteen children and their teacher lost their lives.

Dunblane is a small, picturesque village near Stirling.  A pretty river runs through the middle, ducks play in the water. It’s a village of coffee shops, book shops, nice restaurants all in the shadow of the Hydro that sits high on the hill.

I remember the day well. I was at work and walked out the treatment room with a patient. The receptionist and the next patient were both sitting in the waiting room, listening to the radio, both with tears in their eyes. The news was filtering through about a shooting in Dunblane. At the primary school. The gunman then turned the gun upon himself.

I remember saying to Kirsty the receptionist ‘What Dunblane?’ After all, it couldn’t happen here. With our gun control? Our non- firearm culture? I was that sure they were talking about another Dunblane somewhere else in the world, but not here. 

It remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history. The tragedy was the work of one man, Thomas Hamilton.

Hamilton set off at 8.15 a.m. on that snowy Wednesday morning. He drove to Dunblane Primary School and at half past nine, he parked his van then he cut the telephone cables on the telegraph pole. With him, he had four legal handguns.

He made his way to the gym of the school, walking in through the front door. In the gym was a class of primary one children. So the twenty five children in the gym were five years old. Three members of staff were with them.

Hamilton entered the gym and opened fire.

Three and a half minutes later, thirty two people were injured, sixteen of them fatally.

Hamilton then put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

It’s a horrific story which rightly, brought about many changes in gun law and school security.

Thomas Watt Hamilton was born in 1952 in Glasgow.  He grew up thinking that his mother was his big sister, in a family were everything was for the appearance of being right and proper.  His birth mother was divorced from his father by the time he was born. He grew up with his mother's adoptive parents, thinking they were his biological parents as they had adopted him when he was two. At the age of twenty two, they told him the truth.

He was a bright boy at school, but showed an early interest in two things that seemed to dominate his life.  Guns and boys clubs.

As a teenager he joined a rifle club and the Boys Brigade, becoming a youth leader at the age of twenty. I read somewhere that he was quite a disciplinarian, liked to stick to the rules, no matter what.

His interest in boys was part of his downfall; he was prone to inappropriate behaviour towards them. He had two stints at being a Scout Leader   but was always subject to complaints; he used to photograph partially clad boys and he forced boys to sleep close to him in the back of his van during expeditions to the hills. Their nickname for him was Mr Creepy.

Both times, Hamilton’s Scout Warrant was withdrawn due to “suspicions of his moral intentions towards boys".

Hamilton started a campaign against the local police and Scout movement saying that he was being persecuted by them. He contacted the Queen, locals MPs and anybody who would listen.

Nobody did. Unfortunately, there seemed to be nobody who was aware of the gradual unravelling of his mental state. He was forty three when he committed the atrocity; this was not the confused mind of a mentally ill teenager.  

After Dunblane, schools were never the same again. There’s security now, locked doors. Anybody wanting to work with children under the age of eighteen is vetted, including crime writers invited to give talks to any school age pupils.

Even with the gun laws that we had then, Hamilton should not have been allowed to have those weapons in his possession. Things have tightened up even more now; outright ban on private gun ownership.

There are exceptions, like farmers and those who shoot for sport but they are heavily licensed and checked regularly. The guns are kept in a locked case, in a secure area, chained together with another lock, and only the licensee knows where the key is.

 During an inspection, two police officers come to the house.  Chit chat, coffee etc. One stays with the licensee (usually the male) while the other follows another family member to the kitchen, the conversation continues in a friendly way, probing if the spouse knows where the key to the gun cabinet is. The answer, legally, has to be “No”

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