On 13th March 1996 the small Scottish cathedral town of Dunblane was rocked by a terrible tragedy. A local man, Thomas Hamilton, had walked into the gym of the primary school with several automatic firearms and killed 16 children of five and six years old, their teacher, and finally turned the gun on himself.
Thomas Hamilton, prior to the shootings, had centred his life around work with boys, first through the Scouting movement, and later, after his warrant to lead Scouts was removed (because of suspicions of mental instability, and doubt about his 'moral intentions' towards the boys), through a series of clubs that he ran, in which he encouraged boys to take part in physical activities, such as gym, hill-walking and camping. Parents and authorities were suspicious of Hamilton's motives in these activities -- his methods were regimented, even militaristic. The boys took part in gym classes wearing only bathing trunks provided by Hamilton, and he took photographs, both video and still, without parents permission. The Government enquiry into the shootings states When confronted with complaints about this Thomas Hamilton argued that it was necessary to identify what muscles were being used so that wrong movements could be corrected.
Parents were increasingly uneasy, and children were removed more and more from the clubs. Hamilton gained a reputation for being "weird". A series of boys clubs opened and shut, always with rumours of "Something not quite right". Hamilton was repeatedly reported to have slapped boys under his charge at summer camps in various locations. Police investigations regularly took place into his activities, and Hamilton wrote to anyone and everyone in an attempt to clear his name.
Much has been made of Hamilton's persecution complex with the evidence of this being his continual flow of letters to various individuals, within the scouting movement, the councils, in parliament, the Ombudsman, even the Queen. Little has ever been mentioned of the fact that this complex was, in fact, well justified by the events in his life.
Professor David J Cooke Head of Forensic Clinical Psychology for the Greater Glasgow Health Board told the investigation after the shootings "There were major difficulties in Thomas Hamilton's life which threatened his self-esteem. He was in debt. He was refused a loan. He was being refused access to premises to hold his boys clubs and fewer boys were attending the clubs. It may have been the case that, like many mass killers, he obtained feelings of power and mastery by fantasising his revenge on those whom he perceived as persecuting him. It is likely that his fantasies became more complex and compelling after "behavioural tryouts" when firing at his gun club. He believed that school staff were telling families not to send children to his clubs and that parents were spreading rumours that he was a pervert.
There seems little doubt from the history recounted in the investigations into the massacre that Hamilton was, by nature, a paedophile. However, there is also strong evidence to suggest that he never, on any occasion, made any form of sexual advance to any boy under his charge. In fact, with the exception of one incident, where he is accused of touching a boy's thigh, the only other allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour were discounted as being highly suspect -- inconsistent with known events, uncorroborated and made by someone with a history of dishonesty.
Hamilton's business failed, and his clubs were increasingly failing. That he felt persecuted was clear from the letters he sent. That people were suspicious of his stability was also well documented, and he was taking an increasing interest in guns, shooting and the damage that guns could do. His firearms licence was not revoked, despite discomfort of club members regarding his behaviour with guns, and police investigations of him.
At no point, ever, according to the investigations, did anyone offer Hamilton support or counselling. He was unmarried, with no family, and seemingly no friends or affection outside his 'boys'. His complaints were ignored, sidelined. His last resort, a letter to the Queen, was written on 7th March. At that point, he started to plan his "revenge". As Professor Cooke said to the investigation "Perhaps the most powerful way of getting back at people like that is to kill their children. That is a very traumatic thing to happen. Perhaps he thought he would make maximum impact by doing that."
Dr J A Baird, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist further stated that the primary motive behind the massacre was suicide: "It was not my impression that he particularly relished in the killing spree or wanted to prolong it, as there was no reason for him to have killed himself at the moment when he did other than to avoid running the risk that emergency services might arrive on the scene and prevent him from killing himself"
The consequence of the Dunblane shootings in the wider arena was the ban of handguns to private individuals in the UK, a move welcomed by a large proportion of the population (much as the consequence of the Michael Ryan shootings in Hungerford nine years prior had been the banning of semi-automatic rifles). This is, however, an easy political solution to a difficult problem unconnected with firearms, except as tools -- the inability of the authorities to prevent people becoming marginalised to the extent that they feel justified in multiple murder, and the failure of authorities to act on known threats.
It is facile to argue that there have been no massacres in schools since handguns were banned in the UK -- before Dunblane there hadn't been any in the first place. The issue here isn't one of gun control, but one of how society, people, community, call it what you will, marginalises and ostracises people for being different, weird, suspicious, disregards their complaints about this treatment because they are the bad guys -- and then is surprised when the bad guys really do turn bad.
I can't excuse Thomas Hamilton. I can understand him.