Revealed: the fatal failures behind Dunblane children's massacre

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Key points

• Cullen Inquiry reveals deadly lapses that may have allowed killings to occur

• Warnings over Thomas Hamilton were given but not acted on

• Inquiry findings were to be kept secret for 100 years but are now revealed

Key quote

"If the kind of circumstances as described are allowed to continue without some kind of intervention, I consider that other children may be placed at risk. In like situations arising unchecked I fear that a tragedy to a child or children is almost waiting to happen." - Letter from the Children's Reporter to Fife Regional Council and Fife Constabulary

Story in full

THOMAS Hamilton showed a handgun and bullets to children only days before he massacred 16 pupils and a teacher in Dunblane, documents released yesterday reveal.

But social workers failed to speak to the children to check their story until the day of the shootings.

The lapse is one of a series of failings committed by police and other public bodies in the weeks, months and years before the killings that are described in official documents released to the public for the first time.

The information - contained in more than 3,000 pages of witness statements, letters and reports - includes details of how a police officer specialising in child protection wanted a warrant to search for hundreds of pictures of boys taken by Hamilton at summer camps he ran.

Although a long list of charges were drafted by police, no action was taken by prosecutors.

The previous year, a Children's Reporter warned education chiefs and police that a tragedy to children was "almost waiting to happen" after three boys ran away from a summer camp in Dunblane run by Hamilton.

The documents also detail how a senior police officer refused to revoke Hamilton's firearms licence, believing he posed no danger to society.

The papers, prepared for the Cullen Inquiry into the massacre, were originally placed under a 100-year closure order. But Scotland's senior law officer, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, reviewed that decision and they were made available yesterday at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.

One of the documents is a letter from Strathclyde Police written to the Chief Constable of Central Scotland a week after the shootings. It details how, in the summer of 1995, Hamilton was given permission by the local council to run a boys' football club at Thomas Muir High School, in Bishopbriggs.

On 1 March, 1996 a parent of a boy attending the club contacted the school claiming Hamilton had shown him a gun.

The parent also alleged that Hamilton had offered the boy an 18-certificate video, and told him to keep what he had shown him "secret".

The headteacher contacted Strathclyde Regional Council education department and was told to inform a senior social worker.

On Wednesday, 6 March, a senior social worker, whose identity has been withheld, received a letter detailing the allegations, and referred it to a colleague who was off sick at the time.

According to the document, the senior social worker contacted a principal child care officer in Stirling who said they "had knowledge" of Hamilton and had "received similar complaints in their area". But they added that "nothing had been substantiated".

On Monday, 11 March - two days before the tragedy - the social worker returned from sickness and read the letter on the allegations, "but did not appear to digest the contents in full".

The same day, the headteacher phoned the senior social worker to "express her dissatisfaction and concern" that the matter "did not appear to have been at that stage progressed in any form or fashion".

It was only hours after the massacre that any kind of detailed investigation was begun. Social workers visited the home of the child and another who also attended the club. Both said they had been shown a gun and "approximately ten bullets" in the back of Hamilton's van, which was parked at the school.

The letter continued: "In addition, [child witness one] alleged that on a previous occasion the subject [Hamilton] had shown him a hunting magazine displaying pictures of persons shooting deer, pictures of firearms and ammunition".

The senior social worker was later interviewed by police.

"She frankly admitted that she did not treat the referral as a matter of urgency until the day of the Dunblane incident because she was covering the Strathkelvin area in her capacity as senior social worker and the social worker, [name blanked out], who had been given the referral was off sick until Monday, 11 March 1996," the report for Lord Cullen stated.

The documents lay bare the deep suspicions police held for years about Hamilton's behaviour towards children.

In June 1993 detectives investigated complaints from parents about his youth camps.

They said their children had been forced to wear only "ill-fitting trunks" and were made to carry out strenuous gymnastic exercises while being photographed by Hamilton.

On 9 June, 1993, an unnamed detective constable in the child protection unit at Bannockburn wrote to a senior colleague outlining his concerns. He wrote: "Mr Hamilton has undoubtedly sailed very close to the wind for many years as regards the inappropriateness of his methods of alleged tuition of very young, immature and unsuspecting boys of primary school age.

"However... in view of the evidence available to date Hamilton may have committed offences of lewd, indecent and libidinous practices and behaviour..."

The officer said he also believed Hamilton may have embezzled, as he had boasted of spending 10,000 on camera equipment but was registered as unemployed.

Police drew up a list of ten charges they felt could be brought against Hamilton, but the procurator-fiscal in Stirling decided there was insufficient evidence to prove criminal acts.

Previous probes had been conducted on Hamilton following similar complaints about camps in 1988, 1991 and 1992, but on all occasions prosecutors marked "no proceedings".

Grave concerns were raised the previous year in a letter from the Children's Reporter to Fife Regional Council and Fife Constabulary. The letter was written after three boys, two aged nine and one ten, had run away from a summer camp run by Hamilton at Dunblane High School.

The boys were found sitting late one night on a pavement in Dunblane in their pyjamas. According to police, they were "fed up with the routine of cold showers, terrible food and the general atmosphere".

The reporter wrote: "I feel that the events of 29.6.92 in Dunblane in a sense serve as a warning.

"If the kind of circumstances as described are allowed to continue without some kind of intervention, I consider that other children may be placed at risk.

"In like situations arising unchecked I fear that a tragedy to a child or children is almost waiting to happen."

The files also include evidence from the former deputy chief constable of Central Scotland, Douglas McMurdo, who explained why he did not revoke Hamilton's handgun certificates. This was despite being alerted to an incident in 1989 when Hamilton took a gun to a family's home and showed them how to fire it.

An internal memo from Detective Sergeant Paul Hughes also requested the licence be withdrawn following complaints about the camps.

But Mr McMurdo concluded he "never ever considered Mr Hamilton to be a violent or dangerous person, nor did he do anything which would have given me evidence to revoke his firearms certificate".

He said five firearms incidents involving Hamilton had not been reported to police until after the massacre.

Mr McMurdo said the incident which most concerned him was an allegation that, in January 1996, he pointed an unloaded handgun to a man in his home and pulled the trigger.

"Were there evidence that this allegation was true I would have gone for revocation," he said.

Mr McMurdo resigned in 1996 after his force was harshly criticised following Cullen.

The documents also reveal how a photographic shop owner alerted police after discovering Hamilton was taking hundreds of pictures of scantily-clad boys during gym classes. "At no time did I ever see anything in any of these films other than young boys," he told the inquiry.

A police officer viewed the images but decided there was no criminal content.

Annabel Goldie MSP, the Tory justice spokeswoman, said she hoped lessons could yet be learned from the papers. She said: "Clearly, the disclosure of these papers may help to inform current processes and procedures for assessing individuals.

"This is very topical as the Scottish Parliament is currently considering the Management of Offenders Bill. It has to be hoped that if there are lessons to be learned from what we now know about the circumstances preceding the Dunblane tragedy, these will be picked up as a matter of urgency."

Neither East Dunbartonshire Council, which now has Bishopbriggs in its area, or Glasgow City Council, was able to comment as they did not know where Strathclyde Regional Council archive files were stored.

A spokeswoman for Central Scotland Police said: "The Cullen Inquiry considered fully the issues arising from the Dunblane tragedy and as such Central Scotland Police has no further comment to make. Our sympathies are with the families affected by this tragedy."

Hamilton branded mentally unstable in 1974, report reveals

THOMAS Hamilton was described as mentally unbalanced by a Scouting official as long ago as 1974.

A police report on his involvement with the Scouts told how he was initially regarded as a "polite and intelligent individual" by a local Scout official, but he was dismissed within a year because he was suspected of "improper behaviour with boys".

In 1973, Hamilton became an active member of the 1st Stirlingshire Venture Scouts. In July that year, he became assistant Scout leader and then

was promoted to Scout leader.

But in February 1974, the official received complaints from parents after Hamilton took nine boys from Bannockburn Scouts to Aviemore.

They were supposed to have stayed in a hostel but instead slept overnight in a van in poor weather conditions and the boys were "cold, hungry and frightened". The Scout official warned Hamilton, but two weeks later the same thing happened.

Hamilton claimed the hostel had been overbooked, but the official discovered this was not true and decided to dismiss him.

A letter sent to the Scout Association's warrant department by one of the movement's most senior officials said Hamilton had been suspected of "improper behaviour with boys". The letter quoted a third Scouting official, who was also a consultant surgeon, as saying he considered Hamilton to be "mentally imbalanced".

Hamilton's disturbing behaviour continued when he went on to run his own clubs and summer camps for boys. Over the years, parents made a catalogue of complaints to council officials and police about the way he ran his camps.

He once gave a mother a 15-minute video of his camps, which showed children "exhausted" after gymnastic exercises. She said the children were wearing football shorts, adding: "The camera appeared to pan along the line of children and concentrate on their waists and below."

Boys were also shown wearing only black swimming trunks, hanging from gymnastic hoops. She said she felt this was "way beyond the physical capabilities of children of that age and some appeared close to tears".

A nine-year-old boy who went to a club based at Bannockburn High School told how Hamilton "used to make us wear swimming trunks he brought in for us" while doing gymnastics.

The boy added: "I can remember once when I was in the minibus, Mr Hamilton asked us to guess what kind of club he was a member of.

"We couldn't guess and eventually he told us he was in a gun club. I asked him what he shot and he told me he liked to shoot moving things.

"He told us he had lot of guns but not to tell anybody."

Killer 'was living on credit cards'

THOMAS Hamilton was facing financial meltdown in March 1996.

The former shop owner and failed freelance photographer was living on income support and housing benefit totalling 75 a week and owed more than 8,800.

He had bank overdrafts totalling more than 6,400 and credit card debts of 2,200, according to a report on his finances prepared for the police. It read: "His only means of income was 44 income support, 31 weekly housing benefit and any profits he made from running his boys' clubs at Bannockburn, Dunblane and Bishopbriggs.

"His financial predicament was further worsened by the existence of sheriff's warrants in connection with his council tax debt of 228."

Hamilton had been claiming unemployment benefit, but was reported for working as a photographer while doing so. He denied this when the allegation was investigated, but the benefit was stopped.

Hamilton later sold his camera equipment.

He had four bank accounts and three were substantially overdrawn.

One account, at the Clydesdale Bank, had 577 in it during December 1995, but this was reduced to three pence in four withdrawals, the last on 11 March, 1996, just two days before the shooting.

The report said: "Hamilton was undoubtedly in severe financial difficulties. His total assets ... appear to be three pence whilst he was overdrawn by around 6,472."

It concluded: "The limited movement with the other bank accounts and heavy use of the Barclaycard and Debenhams card is a good indication that Hamilton relied on credit cards for everyday living."