Thomas Watt Hamilton PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 March 2009 17:40

Thomas Watt

Born: 10 May 1952, Glasgow, Scotland

Died: 13 March, 1996 Dunblane, Scotland

Age: 43

Cause of death: Suicide, single bullet wound fired upward in the mouth.

Notable because: Lost his way completely, seemingly without motive and went, heavily armed, to a school where he fired 109 rounds, killing many young children in an insane killing spree that remains the deadliest single targeted mass homicide on children in the history of the United Kingdom. .

HAMILTON's childhood was not the normal background of a white-collar man. Shame, deception and, possibly, hatred, were the dominant emotions in his family. His grandparents pretended to be his parents and his mother pretended to be his sister. No one has yet said when Hamilton discovered the truth about the peculiar arrangements his family made to avoid embarrassment in a more censorious age.

His mother, Agnes, was born in 1931, the illegitimate daughter of a widow, Rachel Hamilton. To prevent a scandal, the baby was given away to a childless couple who were relatives. James and Catherine Hamilton looked after Agnes until she was 19 when she fell in love with Thomas Watt, a bus driver. They married in Bridge Church, Glasgow in 1950. On 10 May 1952, their son Thomas was born. Eighteen months later, the father ran off with another woman and a second "scandal" was hushed up. Agnes went back to her adoptive parents.

The Dunblane massacre  occurred at Dunblane Primary School in the Scottish town of Dunblane on 13 March 1996. Sixteen children and one adult were killed. In addition, the attacker, Thomas Watt Hamilton, committed suicide. It remains the deadliest single targeted mass homicide on children in the history of the United Kingdom.

On 13 March 1996, unemployed former shopkeeper and former Scout leader Thomas Watt Hamilton (born Thomas Watt 10 May 1952) walked into the school armed with two 9 mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers. He was carrying 743 cartridges, and fired 109 times. The subsequent police investigation revealed that Hamilton had loaded the magazines for his Browning with an alternating combination of full metal jacket and hollow point ammunition.

After gaining entry to the school, Hamilton made his way to the gymnasium and opened fire on a class of five- and six-year-olds, killing or wounding all but one person. Fifteen children and a teacher, Gwen Mayor, died at the scene. Hamilton then left the gymnasium through the emergency exit. In the playground outside he fired a number of shots into a mobile classroom. A teacher in the mobile classroom had previously realised that something was wrong and told the children to hide under the tables. Most of the bullets became embedded in books and equipment, though "one passed through a chair which seconds before had been used by a child." He also fired at a group of children walking in a corridor, injuring one teacher. Hamilton went back into the gym and fired one shot with one of his two revolvers pointing upwards into his mouth, killing himself instantly. A further eleven children and three adults were rushed to the hospital as soon as the emergency services arrived; one of these children was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Victims killed

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

A memorial service conducted by James Whyte, the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was held on 9 October 1996.

Hamilton's exact motives remain unknown, though it is a matter of record that there were complaints to police regarding his suspicious behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs that he ran. There were suspicions prior to the massacre that Hamilton's interest in boys was paedophilic, with more than one complaint being made regarding him having taken photographs of semi-naked boys without the parents' consent. He claimed in letters that rumours about him led to the collapse of his shop business in 1993, and in the last months of his life he complained again that his attempts to set up a boys' club were subject to persecution by the police and the scout movement. Among those to whom he complained were local MP Michael Forsyth and the Queen. 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, George Robertson spoke of having argued with Hamilton "in my own home". There has been unfounded speculation about the relationship between Hamilton and Robertson, and the latter launched a landmark 'e-libel' action against the Sunday Herald in 2003 after comments made on the newspaper's message board. He won an apology and damages. On 19 March 1996, just six days after the incident, the body of Thomas Hamilton was cremated in private. The gym where the massacre took place was demolished on 11 April 1996, and within two years the whole school was rebuilt.

Cultural impact

The Home Affairs Select Committee concluded in 1996 that a ban on handguns would be "panic legislation" and would do little to prevent a repeat of the Dunblane incident. It also said that rules governing gun ownership must be changed to prevent people such as Thomas Hamilton from owning weapons.

The Cullen Inquiry recommended tighter control of handgun ownership as well as other changes in school security and vetting of people working with children under 18. However because the Hungerford massacre also involved a legal gun owner killing with his legally-held guns, public feeling had turned against private gun ownership, allowing a much more restrictive ban on handguns to pass.

Security in schools, particularly primary schools, was improved in response to the Dunblane massacre and two other tragedies which occurred at around the same time - the murder of London headmaster Philip Lawrence and the wounding of six toddlers and Lisa Potts, a nursery nurse at a Wolverhampton nursery school.

A month later, Martin Bryant killed 35 people in the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, Australia. The chief defence psychiatrist in the case has revealed that the Dunblane massacre, and in particular the early treatment of Thomas Hamilton, was the trigger in Bryant's mind for the Port Arthur massacre.


With the consent of Bob Dylan, a Dunblane musician named 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.

The Living End have a song on their self-titled album about the Dunblane massacre. It is called "Monday". The band's Chris Cheney said, "It was such a senseless act. I just felt compelled to write a song about it." Also, the UK band History Of Guns got their name from one of their earliest songs, inspired by the Dunblane shootings.

On their 1997 album Quintessentials, English punk band U.K. Subs feature a song simply titled "Dunblane". Lead singer Charlie Harper laments in the chorus: "After Dunblane, how can you hold a gun and say you're innocent?"

Pipe Major Robert Mathieson of Shotts and Dykehead also composed a slow air for the Highland Bagpipes in memoriam of the event, entitled "The Bells of Dunblane".

James MacMillan wrote a tribute piece, "A Child's Prayer", using the words "remembered by the composer from childhood". It was first performed in Westminster Abbey in July 1996 and recorded on the album 'ikon' by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, in 2005.

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) sang "The Little Ones" at the Voices for Darfur gala performance at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in December 2004, a song which he said he wrote for the children of Dunblane and Bosnia.

Eric Bogle, a Scotsman who has lived for many years in Australia, wrote and recorded "One Small Star" in tribute.

The Nationalist rock band Brutal Attack released a song titled The Angels of Dunblane on their album, When Odin Calls.

Scottish celtic rock band Runrig wrote and recorded a song entitled "Life Is" for their 10th studio album In Search Of Angels in tribute of the victims.

John L. Bell wrote There Is a Place, a song in lament for the Dunblane massacre, which was published in his collections The Last Journey and When Grief is Raw and reprinted in many modern hymn books.

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, examines Hamilton's relationship with members of Central Scotland Police and presents a disturbing alternative 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. On 1st March 2006 Creation Books released Predicate: The Dunblane Massacre - Ten Years After by Peter Sotos[19].

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 repeat of Rimmerworld, an episode of the popular sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, was due to be broadcast on BBC2 on the very evening of the massacre. It was suspended because it contains a scene similar to Dunblane: a crazy woman android threatening to kill herself and the Red Dwarf crew.

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 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' (made by iwcmedia).

Episode 1,954 of Australian soap opera Home and Away, in which the estranged father of a Year 7 student of Summer Bay High brought a rifle into the school and held headmaster Donald Fisher hostage all afternoon and overnight (throughout the episode), was not shown at all in the UK. References to the siege in other episodes were edited out by ITV, the then UK broadcaster of the show.

At least three flowers have been named after victims of the shootings. Two roses, developed by Cockers of Aberdeen, were named "Gwen Mayor" and "Innocence" in memory of the teacher and the children. A variety of snowdrop, discovered ten years earlier in the garden of a house close to Dunblane Primary School, has been named after Sophie North.

Dunblane Primary School gymnasium was demolished shortly afterwards and replaced by a small garden: a simple plaque bears the names of the victims.

A Memorial Garden was created at the town's cemetery, where most of those who were killed are buried. The central feature of the Garden is a fountain designed by Maggie Howarth. The Garden was dedicated at a ceremony on 14 March 1998.

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. A Clashach standing stone was later erected in Dunblane Cathedral.

Gardens and trees were planted, and cairns built at various locations, especially schools, throughout the UK in remembrance of the children and their teacher.

The National Association of Primary Education commissioned a wooden sculpture, 'Flame for Dunblane', created by Walter Bailey, which was placed in the National Forest, England.

The Dunblane Youth and Community Centre, funded by donations made after the shootings, was opened in September 2004. Pictures in the glass windows at the front of the Centre represent the children that died.

Mrs. Ann Pearston, a friend of some of the bereaved families, founded a very widely supported campaign, named the Snowdrop Petition (because March is snowdrop time in Scotland), which gained 705,000 signatures in support, and was successful in pressing Parliament, and the then-current Conservative government, into introducing a ban on all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales. The families of the victims were active in the lobbying campaign as was the Gun Control Network, also set up in the aftermath of the shootings, and whose members included parents of victims at Dunblane and of the Hungerford Massacre. The campaign was also supported by a number of newspapers, including the Sunday Mail, a Scottish tabloid whose own petition to ban handguns had raised 428,279 signatures within five weeks of the massacre.

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" due to their dimensions. The ban does not affect Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands.

Since the massacre, questions have been raised about the actions of Central Scotland Police in the case, and conspiracy theories have arisen regarding alleged involvement by Freemasonry, and Northern Ireland terrorist organisations. One theory is that the Dunblane Massacre was the pretext for the banning of guns in the UK and that it was instigated by certain covert elements within the British government and intelligence agencies.

The partial lifting of the 100-year restriction on publication of parts of the Cullen Inquiry into the massacre quelled some conspiracy theories. One of the victims' parents, who read the full version of all the documents before they were released, concluded there was no evidence for any conspiracy, but they do include some sensitive information.

Prior to the events of 13 March 1996, Hamilton was already well known to Central Scotland Police. There were a number of investigations and reports compiled, the exact number and content cannot be verified as they are still unavailable. However, some police involvement with Hamilton is known. In October 1994, Hamilton was cautioned by Lothian and Borders Police in Calton Hill, Edinburgh, when he was found with his trousers down in a "compromising position" with a young man. 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 10 charges, including assault, obstructing police and contravention of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act of 1937. No action was taken.
Last Updated on Sunday, 30 August 2009 09:41

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