Dunblane: files show police flaws

SECRET files on the Dunblane massacre that are finally opened to the public tomorrow will confirm incompetence among police and prosecutors, but demolish widespread claims of conspiracy and cover-up.

The father of one of the victims has already been given access to the files, which he says prove that police failed to take proper action against Thomas Hamilton despite numerous separate incidents that were cause for concern.

Dr Mick North, whose only daughter Sophie was one of the 16 children murdered with their teacher in March 1996, examined all 106 files which were originally "closed" for 100 years but will be open to inspection from tomorrow.

North says the papers explain away several sensational theories about the killings, including one suggestion that police officers had been tipped off that Hamilton was about to go on a rampage. The truth, he says, is that off-duty officers were simply dropping off their own children at the school.

But North concludes that the "arrogant" decision to try to lock away the papers for a century fuelled many wild and hurtful theories.

The thousands of documents were viewed by North in the Crown Office HQ in Edinburgh and include thousands of pages of police and witness statements, medical reports and autopsy examinations.

North said: "The documents I viewed in many ways confirmed what I already believed I knew about the role of the police and the involvement of the procurator fiscal service."

Hamilton's behaviour in the years before the massacre caused great concern and the documents prove a lack of joined-up thinking among police and prosecutors.

North said: "You have a situation where a number of reports are being received by the police of behaviour towards children that is worrying, and these reports outline similar types of behaviour.

"Yet every incident was viewed in isolation. Someone was behaving inappropriately, repeatedly showing aggression towards children, and the margins of the system were not flexible enough to allow the matter to be investigated properly."

North's examination of the documents has also reinforced his concerns about the Cullen Inquiry into the massacre itself. "One of the clearest conclusions I can draw from the vast quantity of documents I viewed is that the inquiry did nothing to address this key point: how should society deal with an individual like Hamilton?" he said.

"Too often the inquiry appeared as a process run by the Establishment largely for the benefit of the Establishment in an attempt to minimise damage and to reassure the public that there was not too much to worry about. Yet the arrogant decision to hide these documents away has left a festering sore that has never healed."

North also says the documents prove that police misled the inquiry about when parents were told their children had died.

"Parents of the children who died were not informed until 2:30pm at the earliest, yet the police said the time was 1:30pm. It's impossible to know why this discrepancy occurred because it was not examined, but it's inexcusable because the same documents reveal all the identifications were complete by 1pm.

"In fact, I learned that by 10.20pm staff had identified about half of the children, yet it seems a decision was made that their parents should not be informed until the process was complete.

"There was no explanation of that. Presumably it was for operational reasons in that it made their job easier, but it was not necessarily in our interests."

Despite his concerns, North insists the documents laid to rest many of the conspiracy theories around the shooting.

One of the most persistent was the suggestion that Hamilton received favours from friends in the Central Scotland Police force that enabled him to keep his gun licence.

North said that while Hamilton had friends in the force, the documents he had viewed did not suggest they had provided significant support to him.

One officer acknowledged Hamilton was in the habit of contacting him to "discuss matters he [Hamilton] feels are important" and to inform him where and when his youth camps would take place, but insisted there was no more than that to their relationship.

He added: "One of the most striking things about the documents was the voluminous correspondence Hamilton entered into, particularly with the police. He wrote incessantly to senior officers and to politicians and copied them in on letters to others.

Considerable interest has also centred on the presence of an off-duty police officer at the school at the time of the shootings and about the fact he was never identified or called to give evidence when he played a significant part in the immediate aftermath.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested the police were tipped off that an armed man was heading for the school and that officers were dispatched - and even that Hamilton had not taken his own life but was shot by the police.

North said the truth was far simpler. "There were actually two off-duty officers at the school, simply because they were dropping their own children at the nursery, which didn't start until 9.30am. One of them left and returned home, although he went back almost immediately on hearing there had been an incident to check his child was safe.

"The other officer was elsewhere in the school when he heard the disturbance. Understandably, he went to see what had happened and was one of the first people into the gym.

"He saw the janitor kick a gun lying close to Hamilton's body away from him and called to him not to move anything else as he understood the importance of preserving the scene."

Doubts have also been expressed about the manner of Hamilton's death, but North said the forensic pathologist's report leaves no room for doubt that Hamilton took his own life with a single shot.

It has also been suggested that Hamilton was part of a paedophile ring, supplying his photographs of scantily clad boys to fellow members, and that some might have been police officers. North said the documents contained no evidence of such activity.

North said: "I do realise that some might feel I've fallen hook, line and sinker for the official version of events.

"But having seen the entire collection of files, I believe it would have been impossible to fillet out selected documents so successfully without the gaps becoming obvious to a careful reader. There simply is no evidence of any conspiracy to prevent the truth emerging or to protect any individual."

North, who would have been celebrating Sophie's 15th birthday today, said: "I hope lessons have been learned, about how society should deal with someone in a community who behaves persistently in an alarming manner, and about how a public inquiry should treat those directly involved in a tragedy.

"It was arrogant in the extreme to hide these papers away for 100 years without consulting those of us most closely affected. Our interest did not cease because Lord Cullen had written his report.

"I realise that some questions do remain, but I am satisfied that nothing untoward contributed to that. There seems little point in continuing to bang our heads off a brick wall. It is time to put the matter to rest."

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