- Category : Criminal - Serial Killer
- Type : PE
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Split - Small (16,20)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Explanation 2
The Dunblane school massacre occurred at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996. The gunman, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton (b. 10 May 1952), entered the school armed with four handguns, shooting and killing sixteen children and one adult before committing suicide. Along with the 1987 Hungerford massacre, 1989 Monkseaton shootings and the 2010 Cumbria shootings it remains one of the deadliest criminal acts involving firearms in the history of the United Kingdom.
Public debate subsequent to these events centred on gun control laws, including public petitions calling for a ban on private ownership of handguns and an official enquiry, the Cullen Report. In response to this debate, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 were enacted, which effectively made private ownership of handguns illegal in the United Kingdom.
Timeline of events
On 13 March 1996, unemployed former shopkeeper Thomas Hamilton (born Thomas Watt, Jr. 10 May 1952) walked into Dunblane Primary School armed with two 9 mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers, all legally held. He was carrying 743 cartridges, and fired his weapons 109 times. The subsequent police investigation revealed that Hamilton had loaded the magazines for his Browning with an alternating combination of full-metal-jacket and hollow-point ammunition.
After gaining entry to the school, Hamilton made his way to the gymnasium and opened fire on a Primary One class of five- and six-year-olds, killing or wounding all but one person. Fifteen children died together with their class teacher, Gwen Mayor, who was killed trying to protect the children. Hamilton then left the gymnasium through the emergency exit. In the playground outside he began shooting into a mobile classroom. A teacher in the mobile classroom had previously realised that something was seriously wrong and told the children to hide under the tables. Most of the bullets became embedded in books and equipment, though one passed through a chair which seconds before had been used by a child. He also fired at a group of children walking in a corridor, injuring one teacher. Hamilton returned to the gym and with one of his two revolvers fired one shot pointing upwards into his mouth, killing himself instantly. A further eleven children and three adults were rushed to hospital as soon as the emergency services arrived. One child, Mhairi Isabel MacBeath, was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
There were no complaints to police regarding Hamilton's behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs he directed. Complaints had been made of his having taken photographs of semi-naked boys without parental consent.
Hamilton had briefly been a Scout leader - initially, in July 1973, he was appointed assistant leader with the 4th/6th Stirling of the Scout Association. In the autumn of that year, he was seconded as leader to the 24th Stirlingshire troop, which was being revived. However, several complaints were made about his leadership, including two occasions when Scouts were forced to sleep with Hamilton in his van during hill-walking expeditions. Within months, on 13 May 1974, Hamilton's Scout Warrant was withdrawn, with the County Commissioner stating that he was "suspicious of his moral intentions towards boys". He was blacklisted by the Association and thus thwarted in a later attempt he made to become a Scout leader in Clackmannanshire.
He claimed in letters that rumours about him led to the failure of his shop business in 1993, and in the last months of his life he complained again that his attempts to organise a boys' club were subject to persecution by local police and the scout movement. Among those to whom he complained were the Queen and the local Member of Parliament, Michael Forsyth. In the 1980s, another MP, George Robertson, who lived in Dunblane, had complained to Forsyth about Hamilton's local boys' club, which his son had attended. On the day following the massacre, Robertson spoke of having argued with Hamilton "in my own home".
On 19 March 1996, six days after the massacre, the body of Thomas Hamilton was cremated in a private ceremony.
The Cullen Inquiry into the massacre recommended that the government introduce tighter controls on handgun ownership and consider whether an outright ban on private ownership would be in the public interest in the alternative (though club ownership would be maintained). The report also recommended changes in school security and vetting of people working with children under 18. The Home Affairs Select Committee agreed with the need for restrictions on gun ownership but stated that a handgun ban was not appropriate.
A small group, known as the Gun Control Network was founded in the aftermath of the shootings and was supported by some parents of victims at Dunblane and of the Hungerford Massacre. Bereaved families and their friends also initiated a campaign to ban private gun ownership, named the Snowdrop Petition (because March is snowdrop time in Scotland), which gained 705,000 signatures in support and was supported by some newspapers, including the Sunday Mail, a Scottish newspaper whose own petition to ban handguns had raised 428,279 signatures within five weeks of the massacre.
In response to this public debate, the then-current Conservative government introduced a ban on all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales. Following the 1997 General Election, the Labour government of Tony Blair introduced the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, banning the remaining .22 cartridge handguns in England, Scotland and Wales, and leaving only muzzle-loading and historic handguns legal, as well as certain sporting handguns (e.g. "Long-Arms") that fall outside the Home Office Definition of a "handgun" due to their dimensions. The ban does not affect Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands.
Security in schools, particularly primary schools, was improved in response to the Dunblane massacre and two other violent incidents which occurred at around the same time: the murder of Philip Lawrence, a head teacher in London, and the wounding of six children and Lisa Potts, a nursery teacher, at a Wolverhampton nursery school. Many schools put up high perimeter fences and door entry systems which exist to this day.
Criticism of the judiciary
Evidence of previous police interaction with Hamilton was presented to the Cullen Inquiry but later sealed under a closure order to prevent publication for 100 years. The official reason for sealing the documents was to protect the identities of children, but this led to accusations of a coverup intended to protect the reputations of officials. Following a review of the closure order by the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, edited versions of some of the documents were released to the public in October 2005. Four files containing post mortems, medical records and profiles on the victims remained sealed under the 100 year order to avoid distressing the relatives and survivors.
The released documents revealed that in 1991, following Hamilton's Loch Lomond summer camp, complaints were made to Central Scotland Police and were investigated by the Child Protection Unit. Hamilton was reported to the Procurator Fiscal for consideration of ten charges, including assault, obstructing police and contravention of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937. No action was taken.
Two books – Dunblane: Our Year of Tears by Peter Samson and Alan Crow (Mainstream, 1996) and Dunblane: Never Forget by Mick North (Mainstream, 2000) – both give accounts of the massacre from the perspective of those most directly affected. Another book, Dunblane Unburied by Sandra Uttley (Book Publishing World 2006), whose publication was funded by a shooters' organisation, the Sportsman's Association, examines Hamilton's relationship with members of Central Scotland Police and presents a disturbing alternative and largely conspiratorial account to the events leading up to the massacre. Uttley alleges a major high-level cover-up and calls for a new Public Inquiry to establish the truth. Uttley questions how Thomas Hamilton managed to tyrannize and intimidate so many boys at his clubs and summer camps for years without being stopped even though many parents complained to the police and councils and why Central Scotland Police were allowed to carry out the investigation when they were implicated. On 1 March 2006 Creation Books released Predicate: The Dunblane Massacre — Ten Years After by Peter Sotos.
On the Sunday following the shootings the morning service from Dunblane Cathedral, conducted by Rev. Colin MacIntosh, was broadcast live by the BBC. The BBC also had live transmission of the Memorial Service on 9 October 1996, also held at Dunblane Cathedral.
A documentary "Crimes That Shook Britain" featured the massacre.
A documentary Dunblane: Remembering our Children (produced by Chameleon Television), which featured many of the parents of the children who had been killed, was broadcast by ITV at the time of the first anniversary.
At the time of the tenth anniversary in March 2006 two documentaries were broadcast. Channel 5 screened Dunblane — a decade on (made by Hanrahan Media) and BBC Scotland showed Remembering Dunblane.
In 2009, the Sunday Express came under some criticism for its coverage of the survivors of the massacre (see Sunday Express Dunblane controversy).
Dunblane Primary School gymnasium was demolished on 11 April 1996, and replaced by a small garden: a plaque bears the names of the victims. A memorial garden, dedicated at a ceremony on 14 March 1998, was created at the town's cemetery, where most of those who were killed are buried. The central feature of the garden is a fountain designed by Maggie Howart, with the names of the children engraved around it. Stained glass windows in memory of the victims were placed in three local churches, St Blane's and the Church of the Holy Family in Dunblane and the nearby Lecropt Kirk as well as at the Dunblane Youth and Community Centre.
At least three flowers have been named after victims of the shootings. Two roses, developed by Cockers of Aberdeen, were named "Gwen Mayor" and "Innocence" in memory of the teacher and the children. A variety of snowdrop, discovered ten years earlier in the garden of a house close to Dunblane Primary School, has been named after Sophie North.
The National Association of Primary Education commissioned a sculpture, "Flame for Dunblane", created by Walter Bailey from a single yew tree, which was placed in the National Forest, near the village of Moira, Leicestershire.
In the nave of Dunblane Cathedral is a standing stone by the monumental sculptor Richard Kindersley. It was commissioned by the Kirk Session as the Cathedral's commemoration and dedicated at a service on 12 March 2000. It is a Clashach stone two metres high on a Caithness flagstone base. The quotations on the stone are by E. V. Rieu ("He called a little child to him..."), Richard Henry Stoddard ("...the spirit of a little child"), Bayard Taylor ("But still I dream that somewhere there must be The spirit of a child that waits for me") and W. H. Auden ("We are linked as children in a circle dancing").
With the consent of Bob Dylan, the musician Ted Christopher wrote a new verse for "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" in memory of the Dunblane school children and their teacher. The recording of the revised version of the song, which included brothers and sisters of the victims singing the chorus and Mark Knopfler on guitar, was released on 9 December 1996 in the UK, and reached number 1. The proceeds went to charities for children. Pipe Major Robert Mathieson of the Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band composed a pipe tune in tribute, "The Bells of Dunblane." Australian band The Living End references the Dunblane massacre in their song "Monday" off their self-titled CD released in 1998.