Chapter 2

The scope and conduct of the Inquiry

Preliminary matters

2.1    The preliminary investigation for the Inquiry was carried out under the authority of the Lord Advocate. The bulk of the investigation was carried out by Central Scotland Police under the direction of Mr John Miller, Procurator Fiscal at Stirling. This involved a painstaking and detailed examination of the conduct of Thomas Hamilton over many years; his relationship with a considerable number of bodies and officials; and the actions of the police in investigating his conduct and authorising his holding of firearms and ammunition. I would like to acknowledge the considerable assistance which the Inquiry derived from being able to draw on the results of that investigation which placed great demands on Central Scotland Police.

2.2    In regard to two subjects, namely (i) the adequacy of the procedures and actions taken by Central Scotland police in regard to Thomas Hamilton's firearm certificate; and (ii) the reports concerning Thomas Hamilton which were made by Strathclyde Police and Central Scotland Police to the Procurators Fiscal at Dumbarton and Stirling, the Lord Advocate very properly decided that it was appropriate to obtain independent evidence for the assistance of the Inquiry. This was provided in the form of reports by Mr J Richardson, Deputy Chief Constable, Strathclyde Police and Mr Alfred D Vannet, Regional Procurator Fiscal of Grampian, Highland and Islands, Aberdeen, respectively.

2.3    In addition to the preliminary investigation, the Lord Advocate, along with counsel appointed by him to act on his behalf, Mr Iain Bonomy QC and Mr Jonathan Lake, Advocate, undertook responsibility in the public interest of presenting evidence to the Inquiry. The general lines to which the evidence should be directed were worked out in consultation with myself. To them I would like to express my profound gratitude for their assistance in achieving the objects of the Inquiry.

2.4    Mrs Glynis McKeand was appointed Clerk to the Inquiry. Her unfailing support and dedication have been invaluable. She has done far more than respond to the call of duty. Mrs Christine McGowan-Smyth assisted me by marshalling information contained in certain parts of the factual evidence. Miss Rachel Gwyon analysed the content of the written submissions relating to matters of school security and the vetting and supervision of adults working with children. Mrs Dorothy Gordon has borne the burden of typing the text of this Report and the preliminary drafts and revisals. To all these members of the Inquiry team I am most grateful.

2.5    From the time when my appointment was announced I received over 1600 letters from a wide variety of correspondents, concerned mainly with the control of firearms and ammunition. While these letters were not intended to be, nor were they, treated as evidence I took account of the concerns which were expressed in them in determining what I would examine. In addition I received petitions supported by 33,739 signatures.

2.6    In order to make myself more familiar with what would be discussed at the Inquiry I took a number of steps. I visited the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School during the week following the shootings. Arrangements were made for me to see a demonstration of the operation of firearms by Mr Alastair Paton, a firearms expert, who in due course gave evidence at the Inquiry. I also requested that arrangements should be made to enable me to visit Bisley during the holding of the competitions known as Pistol '96 in order to see how they were conducted. I would like to record my thanks to the National Rifle Association for their responding to this request. I also attended as an observer at a meeting of a pistol club near Edinburgh.

2.7    A preliminary hearing was held at the Albert Halls, Stirling on 1 May 1996. At this hearing I disposed of applications by persons who wished to be parties to the Inquiry and dealt with various matters of procedure. Under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 I had the power to authorise the representation of any person who appeared to me to be "interested", that is to say interested in the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the incident. A list of the parties to the Inquiry and their representatives is contained in Appendix 1. One of the rules of the Inquiry was that if any party formed the intention at any stage to criticise another person, whether or not his or her interests were already protected by representation, that party should promptly inform the Inquiry Office so that whatever steps were appropriate might be taken, including, where necessary, giving the opportunity for representation to be obtained.

2.8    At the preliminary hearing I also invited written submissions in regard to three particular topics and any other topic which was relevant. This invitation was repeated in a press notice on 3 May 1996. The three particular topics were:

    1. control of the possession and use of firearms and ammunition;

    2. school security; and

    3. vetting and supervision of adults working with children.

The Inquiry

2.9     The Inquiry was held at the Albert Halls, Stirling. It sat for 26 days, opening on 29 May and closing on 10 July 1996. The whole proceedings were held in public and recorded by shorthand writers, Wm. Hodge & Pollock Ltd, Glasgow. The arrangements for the accommodation of the participants, the public and the press were made by the Scottish Courts Service. I am most grateful to them for their assistance.

2.10   Shortly before the opening of the Inquiry I and the Lord Advocate had a meeting with the relatives of the victims of the shootings in order to discuss any concern or anxiety which they had in regard to the taking of evidence at the Inquiry. With my approval and in accordance with their wishes, details of the injuries suffered by individual victims were not explored in evidence. However, as was stated at the opening of the Inquiry, I was supplied with a set of files relating to the victims for my personal consideration.

2.11   At the opening of the Inquiry the Lord Advocate made a statement that, while it was extremely unlikely that any witness should have any concern about self-incrimination, he considered that it was appropriate in the public interest to give an undertaking that anything which a witness said in evidence at the Inquiry would not be used in evidence against him or her in any criminal proceedings in Scotland, except in relation to any offence of perjury or against the course of justice.

2.12   The witnesses who gave evidence at the Inquiry did so on oath or affirmation. In a few instances the evidence of a witness was submitted in writing and read to the Inquiry. Copies of the statements which had been taken from witnesses before they gave evidence were issued in advance to the parties. In no case did it prove necessary for me to exercise the power to enforce attendance which is contained in section 1 (1) of the 1921 Act. A list of the witnesses is contained in Appendix 2. In all but one instance the witness was led by the Lord Advocate or counsel acting on his behalf.

2.13    Copies of the documents which had been assembled for the Inquiry were made available in advance to the parties. The statements of witnesses and the documents were made available on the basis that they were solely for the use of parties and their representatives in connection with their preparation. The parties were asked to give, and gave, their undertakings for this purpose in the normal way. In no case was it necessary for me to exercise my power to compel the production of a document under section 1(1) of the 1921 Act. I should add that the documents assembled by Central Scotland Police included a copy of the draft (as at February 1996) of the thematic report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland on the subject of the Administration of the Firearms Licensing System in 1995. This was referred to during the course of the evidence; and I was also provided with a copy of a later draft of April 1996. I was informed that the decision on whether or not the report should eventually be published would be taken when I had completed my deliberations.

2.14   With my approval and the agreement of parties evidence was taken at the Inquiry in such a way as to avoid the identification of any persons who had come into contact with Thomas Hamilton during their childhood.

2.15   I endeavoured to ensure that the Inquiry had before it the evidence which would enable me to make the findings which are expected of a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland.

2.16   During the course of the Inquiry evidence was led as to information submitted to the Procurators Fiscal of Dumbarton and Stirling by Strathclyde Police and Central Scotland Police during the years from 1988 to 1993; and the reasons stated by the Procurators Fiscal for their decisions in relation to the matters reported to them. As I have already stated the Inquiry was provided with a review by Mr Vannet of the reports and information which were submitted to the Procurators Fiscal by those police forces. On 24 June 1996 Mr Bonomy on behalf of the Lord Advocate made a statement of the Lord Advocate's position in relation to that evidence and the question of enquiring into the decisions taken by those Procurators Fiscal. On the following day I heard submissions from Mr C M Campbell QC and Mr Bonomy in regard to the proper scope for questioning in regard to these matters, after which I gave my decision. The statement made on behalf of the Lord Advocate, a note of the submissions which were addressed to me and the terms of my decision are set out in Appendix 3.

2.17   In the latter part of July it was drawn to my attention that a telephone conversation between two police officers on the morning of 13 March concerning the situation at the school had been accidentally recorded by a telephone answering machine in Motherwell: and that the cassette on which it had been recorded had come into the hands of Central Scotland Police later that day. I was provided with a transcript of the recorded conversation. I was satisfied that it did not contain anything which was of value to the Inquiry.

2.18   As the Inquiry was held not long after the shootings it is not surprising that someone who did not come forward or could not be traced at an earlier stage should claim later that he was able to contribute information about the behaviour of Thomas Hamilton. I deal with a particular instance of this in para 4.15.

Evidence in regard to possible recommendations

2.19   I received a considerable number of contributions in response to the invitation for written submissions which I had issued. In selecting those which were to form part of the written evidence before the Inquiry I had regard to a number of considerations, the most important of which were the qualifications and responsibilities of the contributors and the desirability of obtaining a full range of views. Appendix 4 contains a list of the organisations and persons whose written submissions were selected. Copies were made available for inspection by the press and the public as from 10 June 1996 (Day 10): and thereafter as further written submissions were received and accepted in evidence. I would like to express my appreciation for the high quality of these submissions. They have been of considerable assistance to me in evaluating a wide range of proposals. It is not practicable for me to set out every contention in this Report, let alone all the supporting arguments, but every point has been considered.

2.20   In addition to these written submissions I also had available to me

    1. evidence submitted on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary on 30 April 1996, which contained background information about the licensing of firearms and ammunition; together with comments about the advantages and disadvantages of a number of suggestions for changes in the law which had been made since 13 March 1996, which I will refer to in this Report as the "Green Book".

    2. the report of the Working Group on School Security for the DfEE, which was published in May 1996, along with a commentary by The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department; and

    3. a paper by The Scottish Office on the recruitment and supervision of adults working with children which was published in June 1996.

2.21   Since the written submissions raised a number of points which had practical implications I considered that it would be appropriate to obtain certain additional factual evidence. For this purpose the Inquiry heard evidence in regard to the operation and use of firearms and ammunition; the operation of the certification system; the practice of shooting disciplines and the operation of rifle and pistol clubs; and the extent to which medical practitioners could assist in the assessment of applicants for firearm certificates.

2.22   It was clear to me that it would be of assistance to have a contradictor to oral submissions by the parties which had not been anticipated in the written submissions. I invited legal representatives of the British Shooting Sports Council, the Scottish Target Shooting Federation, the Stirling Rifle and Pistol Club and the Callander Rifle and Pistol Club to address the Inquiry at the stage of closing submissions. I am grateful to them for their assistance in helping me to focus the points at issue.

2.23   In connection with possible recommendations I had available to me by way of background a number of publications, which are listed in Appendix 5. In addition I received a number of papers relating to firearms laws in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Australia and Japan.

2.24   At an early stage of the Inquiry it was clear that a number of the written submissions were critical of the research material referred to in Annex G to the Green Book which had been provided by the Research and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office. I decided at that stage that I should seek the Directorate's comments on these submissions. A note of their comments was received by the Inquiry Office on 29 July. As their comments had been requested while the Inquiry was in progress I decided that the appropriate course was to treat the note as part of the evidence before me. Copies of the note were supplied to the critics of the research material and arrangements were made for notification of the press. A similar procedure was followed when the results of studies of statistics relating to certain cases involving firearms in England and Wales in 1992-94 and in Scotland in 1993 were submitted to the Inquiry Office in the latter part of August.

The scope of recommendations

2.25   In considering the evidence before me I have endeavoured to identify the lessons of the incident and of the circumstances which led up to it, with a view to avoiding the misuse of firearms and other dangers which the investigation brought to light. Every inquiry of this kind involves an extrapolation from the particular circumstances of the case. However, I have borne in mind, as I said at the Inquiry, that, consistently with my terms of reference, I am concerned with issues which arise from the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the incident. For that reason I have concentrated on matters which have some tenable connection with those circumstances. While this is the approach which I would have adopted in any event it is particularly necessary for me to point this out in view of the range of subjects with which some of the submissions relating to the control of firearms were concerned. How I have followed out that approach will be seen from Chapters 7-11. I did not consider that, in regard to any of the matters with which my recommendations are concerned, it was necessary or appropriate for me to present them as interim recommendations.

2.26   I have worked out my recommendations by reference to the evidence, both oral or written, which was before me. I have applied my own independent judgment to the task. I say that with added emphasis in view of a report in the Sun newspaper on 15 August which stated that, following a remark attributed to the Prime Minister, I would abandon a first draft of my report and rewrite my proposals. I would add that at that time no text of my recommendations, draft or otherwise, was in existence. The shootings also prompted the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee to initiate an inquiry into matters of general public policy relating to the possession of handguns. The Committee received both written evidence and oral evidence at a hearing on 8 May. Their report was published on 13 August. Some of the written evidence which was presented to the Inquiry was also presented to the Committee. I should make it clear that, while there was an overlap with the matters which I considered, I did not feel in any way inhibited in reaching my own conclusions.

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Prepared 16 October 1996