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Conspiracy theories about the Dunblane massacre were fuelled by a 100-year ban on the publication of sensitive information, newly released files have revealed.
The Scottish Government papers show that ministers privately admitted there was a “strong public perception of a cover-up” over the atrocity.
Among the unproved theories were claims that a senior Labour figure had helped killer Thomas Hamilton keep his gun licence.
It was also suggested there was a Masonic conspiracy to protect Hamilton.
Minutes of a 2003 cabinet meeting show the then Labour-led executive were shaken by growing controversy over a century-long blackout on documents relating to the public inquiry into the massacre.
Hamilton murdered 16 pupils and teacher Gwenne Mayor at Dunblane Primary School on March 13, 1996. He injured 12 other children and two teachers before killing himself.
Lord Cullen, who led the inquiry into the shootings, agreed that some information should be kept secret for 100 years to avoid it causing distress to the child victims or their siblings.
The Crown Office denied the information blackout was to protect the identities of public figures involved in the inquiry or controversy over Hamilton’s access to firearms and his background working with children. But the secrecy helped stoke conspiracy theories, including claims of an establishment
cover-up of what really happened.
Minutes from a Scottish executive cabinet meeting on February 12, 2003, are released by the National Records of Scotland today under the 15-year rule.
They show a discussion led by then first minister Jack McConnell focused on growing public anger over the 100-year rule.
The politicians agreed: “There was a strong public perception of a cover-up. A 100-year closure seemed incomprehensibly lengthy to the public.”
The minutes also reveal that the cabinet decided: “What mattered was to close the story down. Releasing a sanitised form of the report would be more difficult than was generally thought and administratively costly. Doing so might not be sufficient to satisfy concerns.”
It was suggested one solution might be to have the papers reviewed by an independent expert who could assure the public “they did not contain the kind of references which had been suggested”.
But the vast majority of the papers were subsequently released in edited form in October 2005 after a U-turn by then lord advocate Colin Boyd.
The documents reveal a pattern of incompetence among police and prosecutors but did not substantiate claims of conspiracy and cover-up.
Twelve days before the shooting, the headteacher of Thomas Muir High in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, reported to her education authority that Hamilton had shown a gun to a boy at a football club he ran at the school.
She was advised to contact a senior social worker, who passed the information to a colleague who was off ill at the time.
On March 11 – two days before the massacre – the social worker returned to work and read the letter “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 no action had been taken.
As early as 1992, Hamilton came to the attention of child welfare agencies after two boys ran away from a summer camp he ran at Dunblane High. They were found late one night sitting on a pavement in their pyjamas.
The reporter to the children’s panel wrote to the local council and the police: “I fear that a tragedy to a child or children is almost waiting to happen.”
Other allegations from parents about Hamilton’s youth camps led to a police investigation in 1993.
A detective constable in the child protection unit at Bannockburn, Stirlingshire, said: “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.”
The police drew up a list of 10 possible charges but the procurator fiscal in Stirling decided there was insufficient evidence.
The newly released documents, which contain 3000 pages of witness statements, letters and reports relating to the tragedy, are now available at the National Records of Scotland.
Other files containing details of the victims, including personal profiles, photographs, medical reports and post-mortem reports, remain closed to the public.
Well I have to say it's absolutely disgraceful of how many red flags Hamilton showed yet the Police and child protection agencies did basically absolutely nothing to stop him from not only abusing more children but also not taking away his gun licence which would lead to the massacre occurring; there's also some tragic foreshadowing with that one reporter writing "I fear that a tragedy to a child or children is almost waiting to happen.”
Hopefully more information will be released.