Dunblane school massacre

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Dunblane massacre
a cuboid-shaped standing stone with words engraved on its sides and on the floor where it stands.
Memorial to the victims of the massacre inside Dunblane Cathedral.
Location Dunblane, Scotland
Coordinates 56°11′20″N 3°58′27″W / 56.1890°N 3.9743°W / 56.1890; -3.9743Coordinates: 56°11′20″N 3°58′27″W / 56.1890°N 3.9743°W / 56.1890; -3.9743
Date 13 March 1996 (1996-03-13)
c. 9:35 a.m.–9:40 a.m. (GMT)
Target Pupils and staff at Dunblane Primary School
Attack type
School shooting, mass murder, murder–suicide
Deaths 18 (including the perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Thomas Hamilton

The Dunblane school massacre was one of the deadliest firearms incidents in UK history, when gunman Thomas Hamilton killed sixteen children and one teacher at Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, Scotland on 13 March 1996, before killing himself.

Public debate about the killings 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, two new firearms Acts were passed, which effectively made private ownership of handguns illegal in Great Britain.


  • Victoria Elizabeth Clydesdale (age 5)
  • Emma Elizabeth Crozier (age 5)
  • Melissa Helen Currie (age 5)
  • Charlotte Louise Dunn (age 5)
  • Kevin Allan Hasell (age 5)
  • Ross William Irvine (age 5)
  • David Charles Kerr (age 5)
  • Mhairi Isabel MacBeath (age 5)
  • Brett McKinnon (age 6)
  • Abigail Joanne McLennan (age 5)
  • Gwen Mayor (age 45)
    —Primary School Teacher
  • Emily Morton (age 5)
  • Sophie Jane Lockwood North (age 5)
  • John Petrie (age 5)
  • Joanna Caroline Ross (age 5)
  • Hannah Louise Scott (age 5)
  • Megan Turner (age 5)

On the morning of Wednesday 13 March 1996, former scout leader Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, was witnessed scraping ice off his van at approximately 8:15 am outside his home at Kent Road in Stirling.[2] He left a short time afterwards and drove approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) north[3] to Dunblane in his white van. He arrived on the grounds of Dunblane Primary School at around 9:30 am and parked his van near to a telegraph pole in the car park of the school. Hamilton severed the cables at the bottom of the telegraph pole, which served nearby houses, with a set of pliers before making his way across the car park towards the school buildings.[2]

Hamilton headed towards the north-west side of the school to a door near toilets and the school gymnasium. After gaining entry, he made his way to the gymnasium armed with four legally held handguns;[4] two 9mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers.[2] He was also carrying 743 cartridges of ammunition.[1] In the gym was a class of twenty-eight Primary 1 pupils preparing for a P.E. lesson in the presence of three adult members of staff.[5] Before entering the gymnasium, it is believed he fired two shots into the stage of the assembly hall and the girls' toilet.[2] Upon entering the gymnasium, Hamilton was about to be confronted by Eileen Harrild, the P.E. teacher in charge of the lesson, before he started shooting rapidly and randomly. He shot Harrild, who sustained injuries to her arms and chest as she attempted to protect herself, and continued shooting into the gymnasium.[2][5] Harrild managed to stumble into the open-plan store cupboard at the side of the gym along with several injured children. Gwen Mayor, the teacher of the Primary 1 class, was shot and killed instantly.[2] The other present adult, Mary Blake, a supervisory assistant, was shot in the head and both legs but also managed to make her way to the store cupboard with several of the children in front of her.[2]

From entering the gymnasium and walking a few steps, Hamilton had fired 29 shots with one of the pistols and killed one child and injured several others. Four injured children had managed to shelter in the store cupboard along with the injured Harrild and Blake.[2] Hamilton then advanced up the east side of the gym, firing six shots as he walked and then fired eight shots towards the opposite end of the gym. He then proceeded towards the centre of the gym, firing 16 shots at point-blank range at a group of children who had been incapacitated by his earlier shots.[2]

A Primary 7 pupil who was walking along the west side of the gym building at the time heard loud bangs and screams and looked inside the gym. Hamilton shot in his direction and the pupil was injured by flying glass before running away.[2] From this position, Hamilton fired 24 cartridges in various directions. He fired shots towards a window next to the fire exit at the south-east end of the gym, possibly at an adult who was walking across the playground, and then fired four more shots in the same direction after opening the fire exit door.[2] Hamilton then exited the gym briefly through the fire exit, firing another four shots towards the cloakroom of the library, striking and injuring Grace Tweddle, another member of staff at the school.[2]

In the mobile classroom closest to the fire exit where Hamilton was standing, Catherine Gordon saw him firing shots and instructed her Primary 7 class to get down onto the floor before Hamilton fired nine bullets into the classroom, striking books and equipment. One bullet passed through a chair where a child had been sitting seconds beforehand.[2] Hamilton then reentered the gym, dropped the pistol he was using, and equipped himself with one of the two revolvers. He put the barrel of the gun in his mouth, pointed it upwards, and pulled the trigger, killing himself.[2] A total of 32 people sustained gunshot wounds inflicted by Hamilton over a 3–4 minute period, 16 of whom were fatally wounded in the gymnasium, which included Gwen Mayor and 15 of her pupils. One other child died later en route to hospital.[2]

Emergency response[edit]

The first call to the police was made at 9:41 a.m.[5] by the headmaster of the school, Ronald Taylor, who had been alerted by assistant headmistress Agnes Awlson to the possibility of a gunman on the school premises. Awlson had informed Taylor that she heard screaming inside the gymnasium and had seen what she thought to be cartridges on the ground, whilst Taylor had been aware of loud noises which he assumed to have been from builders on site that he had not been informed of. Whilst on his way to the gym, the shooting ended and when he saw what had happened ran back to his office and told deputy headmistress Fiona Eadington to call for ambulances, which was made at 9:43 a.m.

The first ambulance arrived on the scene at 9:57 a.m. in response to the call made at 9:43 a.m. Another medical team from Dunblane Health Centre arrived at 10:04 a.m. which included doctors and a nurse, who were involved in the initial resuscitation of the injured. Medical teams from the health centres in the nearby towns of Doune and Callander arrived shortly afterwards. The accident and emergency department at Stirling Royal Infirmary had also been informed of a major incident involving multiple casualties at 9:48 a.m. and the first of a number of medical teams from the hospital arrived at 10:15 am. Another medical team from the Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary arrived at 10:35 a.m.

By approximately 11:10 a.m., all of the injured victims had been taken to Stirling Royal Infirmary for medical treatment; one victim died en route to the hospital.[5] Upon examination, several of the patients were transferred to Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary in Falkirk and some to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.[6]

Along with the 1987 Hungerford massacre, and the 2010 Cumbria shootings, it remains one of the deadliest criminal acts involving firearms in the history of the United Kingdom.


Thomas Watt Hamilton
Born (1952-05-10)10 May 1952
Glasgow, Scotland
Died 13 March 1996(1996-03-13) (aged 43)
Occupation Former shopkeeper
Criminal status Deceased
Parent(s) Thomas Watt Hamilton, Sr. (father)
Agnes Graham Hamilton (mother)

There had been several complaints to police regarding Hamilton's behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs he directed. Claims had been made of his having taken photographs of semi-naked boys without parental consent.[7]

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.[8]

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".[9]

On 19 March 1996, six days after the massacre, the body of Thomas Hamilton was cremated in a private ceremony.[10]

Political impact[edit]

Gun control[edit]

The Cullen Inquiry into the massacre recommended that the government introduce tighter controls on handgun ownership[11] and consider whether an outright ban on private ownership would be in the public interest in the alternative (though club ownership would be maintained).[12] The report also recommended changes in school security[13] and vetting of people working with children under 18.[14] 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.[15] 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 of John Major introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned 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" because of 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 south of the border 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[edit]

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.[16] 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.[17] 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, as well as Thomas Hamilton's autopsy, remained sealed under the 100 year order to avoid distressing the relatives and survivors.[18]

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 Act 1937. No action was taken.[19]

Media coverage[edit]


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,[20] examines Hamilton's relationship with members of Central Scotland Police and presents a disturbing 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.[21]


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 STV and 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).


Two days after the shooting, a vigil and prayer session was held at Dunblane Cathedral which was attended by people of all faiths.[1] On Mothering Sunday, on 17 March, Queen Elizabeth II and her daughter Anne, Princess Royal attended a memorial service at Dunblane Cathedral.[1]

Side view of the nave of a cathedral from outside. Tall arched glass windows run along half the length of the nave from the right. Adjacent to the nave, and to the left of the scene is a cuboid-shaped tower with a conical spire. The foreground is scattered with headstones of a graveyard on green grass.
Numerous memorial services have been held at Dunblane Cathedral.

Seven months after the massacre in October 1996, the families of the victims organised their own memorial service at Dunblane Cathedral in which more than 600 people attended, including Prince Charles who was representing the Royal Family.[1] The service was broadcast live on BBC1 and conducted by James Whyte, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.[22] Television presenter Lorraine Kelly, who had befriended some of the victims' families whilst reporting on the massacre for GMTV, was a guest speaker at the service.[1]

In August 1997, two varieties of rose were unveiled and planted as the centrepiece for a roundabout in Dunblane.[23] The two roses were developed by Cockers Roses of Aberdeen;[24] the 'Gwen Mayor'[25] rose and 'Innocence'[26] rose, in memory of the children killed. A snowdrop originally found in a Dunblane garden in the 1970s was renamed 'Sophie North' in memory of one of the victims of the massacre.[27][28]

The gymnasium at the school was demolished on 11 April 1996 and replaced by a memorial garden.[29] Two years after the massacre on 14 March 1998, a memorial garden was opened at Dunblane Cemetery, where Gwen Mayor and twelve of the children who were killed are buried.[30] The garden features a fountain with a plaque of the names of those killed.[30] 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.

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.

Commemoration stone[edit]

The Dunblane Commemoration standing stone.

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").

Musical tributes[edit]

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.[31] Pipe Sergeant Charlie Glendinning of the City of Washington Pipe Band (USA) composed "Dunblane," a tune for bagpipes, which Bonnie Rideout arranged for two violins and viola. It was recorded on "Rant," an album produced by Maggie's Music.[32] Pipe Major Robert Mathieson of the Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band composed a pipe tune in tribute, "The Bells of Dunblane."[33] Australian band The Living End references the Dunblane massacre in their song "Monday" off their self-titled CD released in 1998.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Dunblane Massacre, bbc.co.uk. h2g2. 15 May 2006. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o The Public Inquiry into the Shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996, 16 October 1996. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  3. ^ Distance between Stirling and Dunblane, distance.to. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  4. ^ Britain's Gun Laws Seen As Curbing Attacks, washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post. 24 April 2007. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Transcripts of Proceedings at the Public Enquiry into Incident at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996, scotland.gov.uk. 18 October 2006 Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  6. ^ From the archive, 14 March 1996: Sixteen children killed in Dunblane massacre, theguardian.com. The Guardian. 14 March 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  7. ^ Cullen Report 1996, Chapter 4, paras. 12-15
  8. ^ Cullen Report 1996, Chapter 4
  9. ^ "Hansard". 14 March 1996. Retrieved 16 April 2007. 
  10. ^ "Five small coffins laid to rest in Dunblane". The Independent (London: Newspaper Publishing PLC). 20 March 1996. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008. Thomas Hamilton was cremated in secret yesterday far away from the city where he committed mass murder. 
  11. ^ Cullen Report 1996, Chapter 8, paras. 9–119
  12. ^ Cullen Report 1996, Chapter 9, para. 113
  13. ^ Cullen Report 1996, Chapter 10, para. 19,26
  14. ^ Cullen Report 1996, Chapter 11, paras. 21, 29–39 and 47
  15. ^ "Gun Control Network, 'About Us'". Retrieved 6 March 2012. 
  16. ^ Peterkin, Tom (10 February 2003). "Call to lift secrecy on Dunblane murderer". Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  17. ^ Seenan, Gerard (14 February 2003). "Call to lift veil of secrecy over Dunblane". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  18. ^ "Order lifted on Dunblane papers". BBC News. 28 September 2005. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  19. ^ Uttley (2006), p. 209
  20. ^ "Dunblane Unburied". 14 March 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2007. 
  21. ^ Sotos, Peter (2006). Predicate: The Dunblane Massacre — Ten Years After. Creation Books. p. 192. ISBN 1-84068-136-5. 
  22. ^ Dunblane victims to be honoured Prince will attend memorial service, heraldscotland.com. The Herald. 7 October 1996. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  23. ^ Roses named for Dunblane dead, independent.co.uk. The Independent. 20 August 1997. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  24. ^ Flower power for Dunblane tribute, Daily Record. 20 August 1997. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  25. ^ Gandy's Hybrid Tea Roses - Gwen Mayor, roses.co.uk. Cockers Roses of Aberdeen. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  26. ^ Low Growing Patio Roses - Innocence, roses.co.uk. Cockers Roses of Aberdeen. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  27. ^ Scotland’s Snowdrop fans, heraldscotland.com. The Herald. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  28. ^ Galanthus Sophie North, rareplants.co.uk. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  29. ^ Dunblane school gym reduced to rubble, independent.co.uk. The Independent. 12 April 1996. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  30. ^ a b Dunblane victims remembered, news.bbc.co.uk. BBC News. 14 March 1998. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  31. ^ "Dunblane children record Dylan song for Christmas (Reuters)". Edlis.org. 20 November 1996. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  32. ^ "Bonnie Rideout — Dunblane — Listen and discover music at Last.fm". Retrieved 25 January 2016. 
  33. ^ "Bells of Dunblane - Highland Bagpipes traditional tunes’ stories by Stephane BEGUINOT". Retrieved 25 January 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]