Summary of the Report
1.1 Through the Inquiry I sought the answers to the following questions:
1.2 In Chapter 2 I give an account of the investigation of the circumstances and the steps which were taken to prepare the way for my consideration of possible recommendations.
1.3 In Chapter 3 I describe how Thomas Hamilton, having entered the school, shot Mrs Gwen Mayor and 16 members of her Primary 1/13 class and inflicted gunshot wounds on 10 other pupils and three other members of the teaching staff. I then describe the response of the teaching staff, emergency services and police to the incident, with an account of various lessons which have been learned from the experience. I narrate that an examination of the scene showed that, having entered the school with 4 handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition, Thomas Hamilton fired 105 rounds with a 9 mm Browning self-loading pistol over a space of about 3-4 minutes before committing suicide with one shot from a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver.
1.4 In order to provide the full background to this outrage the Inquiry had to investigate events in the life of Thomas Hamilton, and in particular over the last 23 years. The results of that investigation are set out in Chapter 4 with the exception of the last 6 months which are covered by Chapter 5. In Chapter 4 I describe how the withdrawal of his warrant as a Scout leader in 1974 led to his undying resentment against the Scouts who, he claimed, undermined his work with various boys clubs which he ran from the 1970s onwards. However, the way in which he ran those clubs, and in particular his insistence that the boys should wear brief swimming trunks which he provided and be photographed in them while performing gymnastic exercises caused complaints from parents and led to his coming into contention with a number of local authorities which owned the school premises where his clubs met. His summer camps in 1988 and 1991 and his residential sports training course in 1992 were investigated by the police, but he was never prosecuted. Thomas Hamilton countered these complaints and investigations with complaints of his own against the police and local authority officials. In 1995 Central Regional Council was still endeavouring to find ways of making it more difficult for him to obtain the let of their premises. The chapter also deals with allegations as to his conduct with firearms, and in particular showing them to others and an occasion on which he is said to have threatened Mrs Doreen Hagger with a gun. I do not find it proved that this incident occurred or was reported to the police.
1.5 In Chapter 5 I deal with a number of possible pointers as to the factors which were at work in the mind of Thomas Hamilton in the period leading up to 13 March 1996. His clubs were then in decline. He was in serious financial difficulties. His mood was low and he was deeply resentful of those who had claimed that he was a pervert and had discouraged boys from attending his clubs. After a gap of about 8 years his interest in firearms was resurgent. There is evidence which points to his making preparations for what he did, including the questions which he put to a boy about the layout and timing of events at the school and his questioning of a retired police officer about the time which the police would take to respond to an incident. In the light of expert evidence from a psychologist and psychiatrist I conclude that Thomas Hamilton was not mentally ill but had a paranoid personality with a desire to control others in which his firearms were the focus of his fantasies. The violence which he used would not have been predictable. His previous conduct showed indications of paedophilia.
1.6 In Chapter 6 I am concerned with the question - How was it that Thomas Hamilton came to hold the firearms and ammunition which he did on 13 March 1996? I set out the history as from February 1977 of the firearms and ammunition which he was authorised to and did acquire. In the light of the legislation and the official Guidance to the Police I examine the operation of the certification system by Central Scotland Police. I find that the reasons which were given and accepted for his being authorised to hold more than one handgun of the same calibre were unsatisfactory. The authority which he had for the possession of firearms and the acquisition of ammunition was renewed without enquiry as to the use which he was making of the firearms. The underlying reason for this was the unsatisfactory way in which the Guidance was expressed. His fitness to be entrusted with a firearm was challenged by Detective Sergeant Hughes in a memorandum of 11 November 1991 after the police investigation of the summer camp of that year. However, it was decided that no action should be taken against Thomas Hamilton. A similar decision had been taken in 1989 after he had behaved inappropriately in showing firearms to a family in Linlithgow. I reach the conclusion that in the response of senior police officers to the memorandum of Detective Sergeant Hughes an unduly narrow view was taken of "unfitness" as a ground for the revocation of a firearm certificate; and that in view of various considerations Deputy Chief Constable McMurdo should have made further enquiries. On balance there was a case for revocation which should have been acted upon. The same considerations should have led in any event to the refusal of Thomas Hamilton's subsequent applications for renewal of his firearm certificate. However, the eventual outcome would have depended on the outcome of the appeal to the sheriff which I have no doubt that Thomas Hamilton would have taken. The chapter concludes with some observations on what I regard as weaknesses in the system used by Central Scotland Police for the carrying out of enquiries and the making of decisions about firearm applications.
1.7 As I explain in Chapter 7, there are essentially two methods of control of firearms and ammunition under the Firearms Acts. The first is the regulation by means of the certification system of the authority to possess, or as the case may be, to purchase or acquire them. The second is the imposition of restrictions on certain categories of firearms and ammunition by reference to their relative dangerousness. At the outset of my discussion of the future of legislative control I consider the submission that all guns should be banned, from which it would follow that there would no longer be a certification system. For the reasons which I give I do not recommend such a wholesale prohibition.
1.8 It is logical that I should next consider what could be achieved by improvements to the certification system. I do this in Chapter 8. As regards the work of the police I do not favour the removal from them of any of their functions but I point out that in a number of respects there is a need to strengthen the support which is given to those who carry out enquiries; and to extend the powers available to police officers and civilian licensing and enquiry officers. I also endorse the steps which are being taken to enable police forces to hold and exchange information on computer as to the individuals who hold firearm certificates and those whose firearm applications have been refused or certificates revoked.
1.9 The history of Thomas Hamilton's possession of firearms and ammunition shows that there is a need to ensure that a person does not retain the authority to possess a firearm or ammunition for it when he no longer can show "good reason" for doing so. There requires to be a power to revoke a firearm certificate on this ground, in whole or in part. However, if the police are to have the opportunity to consider revocation it is essential that there should be a means by which the use of firearms and ammunition can be ascertained; and that the police are made aware of circumstances indicating lack of use. This leads me to discuss the need for each holder of a firearm certificate to be a member of at least one club which is approved for the purposes of section 15 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988; and for approved clubs to keep a record of the activities of their members who are holders of firearm certificates and to inform the police of the termination of membership or non-attendance for a substantial period.
1.10 The suitability of a holder of a firearm certificate is linked even more closely with the safety of the public. The fitness of a person to be entrusted with a firearm should become one of the conditions on which the granting and renewal of a firearm certificate depends. I also consider what additional steps should be taken to guard against "prohibited" persons becoming members of an approved club. I discuss the current requirement for a counter-signatory in support of a firearm application, and recommend that it should be replaced by a system for the provision of two references. I turn then to the provision of medical and psychological information. I do not consider that it would be practicable for general practitioners to be required to provide a medical report on each applicant, or for a psychiatric examination or a psychological test to be carried out. In any event in each case there are grounds for considerable reservations as to the effectiveness of such a measure. However, the proposal that general practitioners should provide information as to applicant's medical history for consideration by a forensic medical examiner should be the subject of consultation with the interested bodies. Lastly, I discuss the present system for appeals against the decisions of the chief officer of police, and express the view that it would be more appropriate that the scope for appeal should be restricted to enumerated grounds which did not trench on the exercise of his discretion; and that this be the subject of further study and consultation.
1.11 Despite the fact that there is room for improvement in the certification system I conclude that there are significant limitations in what can be done to exclude those who are unsuitable to have firearms and ammunition. There is no certain means of ruling out the onset of a mental illness of a type which gives rise to danger; or of identifying those whose personalities harbour dangerous propensities. On this ground alone it is insufficient protection for the public merely to tackle the individual rather than the gun. This brings me to the discussion in Chapter 9 of the availability of section 1 firearms, and in particular handguns held for target shooting, with which the Inquiry was directly concerned. I discuss the uses of such handguns and the dangers which may be posed by their misuse - the part they play in crime and their relative lethality, ease of use and rapidity of fire. I consider the risk which arises from their present legal availability and reach the conclusion that there is a case for restricting the possession by individuals of self-loading pistols and revolvers of whatever calibre which are held for target shooting.
1.12 I then proceed to examine the evidence which was before me as to the practicability and effectiveness of various measures for restricting the availability of handguns in target shooting - (i) limiting the number of handguns or the number of a particular calibre which may be held; (ii) separating the handguns from their ammunition; (iii) restricting the capacity of multi-shot handguns; (iv) temporarily disabling multi-shot handguns; and (v) the banning of the possession by individuals of multi-shot handguns. I then consider the implications of the imposition of a restriction of one kind or another on the availability of handguns.
1.13 In reviewing my conclusions I note that of all the measures which stop short of a ban the one which is open to the least objection on the ground of practicability is the temporary dismantling of self-loading pistols and revolvers by the removal of major components. Any difficulty on this ground could be met by a requirement for the fitting of locked barrel blocks. It does not eliminate all possibility of evasion by a determined would-be killer but such a system would effect a substantial reduction in the opportunity for misuse of lawfully held handguns. I also require to consider what would be proportionate and just, having regard on the one hand to the scale of risk and on the other to the implications of one course of action or another. The banning of multi-shot handguns would have a very damaging effect on the sport of target shooting and would give rise to claims for compensation and adverse effects on the economy. I point out that the ultimate decision raises a number of matters of policy which are peculiarly for the Government and Parliament to decide. For that reason I direct my recommendation to what should be considered. My conclusion is that consideration should be given to restricting the availability of self-loading pistols and revolvers of any calibre which are held for use in target shooting preferably by their disablement, while they are not in use, by either (i) the removal of the slide assembly/cylinder, which is to be kept securely on the premises of an approved club of which the owner is a member or by a club official; or (ii) the fitting of a locked barrel block by a club official. If such a system is not adopted, consideration should be given to the banning of the possession of such handguns by individual owners.
1.14 In Chapter 10 I am concerned with the safety of staff and pupils in schools, and in particular with their protection against violence. Guidance has been published on the subject of violence to staff but little, if any, on tackling the dangers to pupils. However, it is clear that the solution to the problem of protection is to be found through the application of sound principles of safety management. I point out the legal responsibility for safety of employees and pupils which arises from the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. There should be no uncertainty as to the personnel to whom safety roles are allocated. The risks against which staff and pupils at school are to be safeguarded includes the possibility of attack by an intruder, and the existence of that risk calls for the working out of a preventive strategy with an action plan appropriate to the particular features of each school. While the approach to be adopted in such an action plan and the measures which it should include must depend on the particular case I set out an outline of the main points which were put to me in the submissions which I received.
1.15 Chapter 11 is concerned with the means of protecting children and young people who attend clubs or other groups against abuse by leaders or others who have regular contact with them; and in particular with the steps which can and should be taken to vet such persons and supervise their conduct. Having reviewed existing controls and advice I concentrate on situations in which children and young people under 16 years of age voluntarily attend clubs or groups for their recreation, education or development. It is unsatisfactory that it should be left to individual clubs or groups to carry out their own checks and to adopt whatever practice they please. Parents are not always in a position to make adequate enquiry into the way in which clubs or groups are run or their personnel are checked. There may be difficulties facing smaller organisations in carrying out effective checks. As matters stand there is no system for co-ordinating information between different areas of the country as to persons who are regarded as potentially unsuitable to work with children and young people. As I explain, these and other considerations indicate that, in my view, a system should be instituted to ensure that clubs and groups use adequate checks on the suitability of the leaders and workers who have substantial unsupervised access to them. Having reviewed various possible approaches to such a system I reach the conclusion that what is required is one for the voluntary accreditation of clubs and groups, and that such a system should be operated by means of a national body. Such a body would also be responsible for drawing up or selecting guidelines, collecting information in regard to any matter which might reflect on a person's suitability and monitoring the conduct of clubs and groups which are accredited.
1.16 Chapter 12 contains a summary of my recommendations.