Chapter 5

The last six months


5.1    In this chapter I will endeavour to put together the picture of Thomas Hamilton's character and attitudes which emerged from the evidence, before turning to an account of events during the last six months of his life. While this cannot provide a full explanation as to what led him to perpetrate the outrage on 13 March 1996, it may provide some pointers as to the factors which were at work in his mind. The chapter concludes with an assessment of Thomas Hamilton which has been derived from expert evidence given by a psychologist and a psychiatrist .

Thomas Hamilton's character and attitudes

5.2    Thomas Hamilton claimed in a number of letters that the rumours about him in 1983 caused the collapse of his shop business. However, it is more likely that this was due to the effect of competition from modern DIY stores and to his preoccupation with boys clubs and camps. He saw the clubs as a means of making a success of the camps. Mr D G McGregor, a former employee of Central Regional Council, whom he consulted about 1980 in regard to the qualifications required by someone running a gymnastics club, recalled that "he was interested in running camps during the summer months, but in order to ...get recruits, you might say, along to the camps he felt it necessary that he would have to run clubs during the winter".

5.3    The evidence showed that Thomas Hamilton was constantly engaged in recruiting boys and that he could be abusive to parents who withdrew their sons.

5.4    He was not averse to using deceitful or at any rate questionable methods of attracting support. His description as to the intended activities, his own qualifications, the number of helpers and the charges which would be made for membership not infrequently bore little relation to what happened. In order to gain an appearance of respectability he represented that a committee was responsible for the running of clubs and he made use of the names of officials as "contacts". He took photographs of boys without their parents' knowledge or consent. He issued misleading information as to the circumstances in which he had left the Scouts.

5.5    At the same time he was extremely intolerant of those who questioned the way in which he ran the clubs and camps. It is also clear that he had an inflated view of his own importance and that of his activities. Mr B D Fairgrieve said of a meeting with Thomas Hamilton in 1974, where he had been subjected to a long and rambling discourse: "I formed the impression that he had a persecution complex, that he had delusions of grandeur and I felt his actions were almost paranoia." When DCC McMurdo wrote to The Scottish Office on 14 January 1992 he made a number of remarks which showed that he was plainly exasperated with Thomas Hamilton's statements. His remarks included: "For Mr Hamilton to see his tiny local organisation as a serious rival to the Scouting movement indicates a certain lack of perspective". When Thomas Hamilton was criticised he would reply with elaborate self-justification and often adopted attack as a means of defence.

5.6    Thomas Hamilton harboured a long-standing grievance against the Scouts and the police. In the large volume of correspondence which he generated a recurring theme is his assertion that the police were biased in favour of the "brotherhood of masons" and that there was a "brotherhood" link between the Scouts and the police. In passing it may be noted that this together with evidence given by Mr Deuchars indicated that Thomas Hamilton had never been a freemason. I am satisfied that he was not a member of the masons. Evidence was given by a number of his acquaintances of his bitter complaints of having been victimised by the police and having suffered hard treatment at the hands of local authorities. When Mr W B McFarlane met him from time to time during the last 7 or 8 years of his life he found that Thomas Hamilton's conversation was "all one way..... he was anti-police, he was anti-establishment, he was anti- the education authority, he seemed to be anti-anybody who opposed his views on how the clubs should be run or whether they should be run". Thomas Hamilton knew that he was being referred to as a pervert and thought that teachers and parents had been discouraging boys from attending his clubs. He told an acquaintance that, if he stopped running the clubs, people would have considered that rumours about him were true.

5.7    I will refer later to expert evidence which was given as to the nature of Thomas Hamilton's sexuality, but for the present it may be of some significance to note some of the observations as to the way in which he treated the boys. There are a number of indications that he sought to domineer and that he was insensitive to their comfort and safety. I have already referred to the general methods which he adopted in the clubs (para 4.11 et seq). At the camps there was a general lack of adequate supervision; the boys were found to have insufficient clothing for the prevailing weather; he insisted on making a videofilm when the boys were cold and wet; and he insisted that the boys should be denied contact with their parents. It was not surprising that they became homesick and upset.

5.8    Thomas Hamilton did not form any close relationship with an adult of either sex. His natural mother, Mrs Agnes Watt, stated that he had had a girlfriend a long time ago. However, after she got too serious "he didn't want to know". Mr F B Cullen, who assisted him in his shop, said that he was nervous among adults and very uncomfortable amongst females in particular. The events on 13 March 1996 may have made some people reluctant to admit that they were friends of Thomas Hamilton, but I am satisfied that he had few friends but more than a few acquaintances. The impression which he made on people varied. He was "a generous man to work with and a kind man", according to Mr Cullen. Mr E J E Anderson, who was associated with him in the running of the Dunblane Rovers Group and the Dunblane Boys' Club, referred to him as "a very shy, lonely person.... a very quiet, kind individual"; and Mr D MacDonald who had been a member of one of his clubs and who was regularly in touch with him said that he was "quite an intelligent man .... interesting enough to talk to". On the other hand some found that he made them feel uncomfortable and did not like talking to him. They were uneasy about the way in which he walked and spoke. A neighbour described him as follows: "He sort of crept. He was very head-down". He spoke slowly, softly and precisely but without expression in his voice. Mr G S Crawford, Secretary of the Stirling Rifle and Pistol Club said: "Hamilton was a loner, he wouldn't engage in social conversation with anybody; it is known also that women members didn't particularly like being around him. He was a bit of a creep in their eyes". Mr J S B Wilson said: "He was unusual....effeminate. He had a tendency to sort of wring his hands. There was a bit of a feeling of discomfort". Mr G Baxter, Head of the Woodmill Centre, Dunfermline, found that Thomas Hamilton was unusual in that "he didn't laugh at anything. He didn't joke at anything. He was far too polite". Some neighbours referred to him as sly and devious. A number of witnesses remarked that the only thing that he was interested in was boys clubs, so that it was difficult to carry on a conversation with him. A number of witnesses described him as being peculiarly calm in the face of adversity. Thus Mr George Robertson MP so described him in the face of hostile questioning from parents. His reaction to the incident on 16 May 1989 when he was assaulted by Mrs Hagger and Mrs Reilly is particularly striking. Finally while there were some boys who regarded him as a nice man, others found him "weird".

Events during the last 6 months of Thomas Hamilton's life

Thomas Hamilton's Boys' Clubs

5.9    By September 1995 there had been a substantial decline in his clubs. The Menstrie, Alva and Tillicoultry Club had ended in March; and a proposed club at Callander had come to grief when only one boy had attended. On 18 August he had issued a large number of circular letters to parents in Dunblane in order to deal, he said, with the false and misleading gossip about him which had been circulated by Scout officials. The letter stated that it was rumoured that he had been put out of the Scouts or asked to leave in sinister circumstances, whereas it was he who had left the Scouts. The letter went on to say that despite the severe and obvious difficulties the Dunblane Group had operated for 15 years. He added that "many young athletes had been lost needlessly over the years and others deterred from attending". However 25 boys had attended the sports training course at Dunblane High School in the summer of 1995.

5.10   It is clear that Thomas Hamilton intended to make up for the difficulties nearer home by going further afield. In the autumn of 1995 he obtained a let in Thomas Muir High School, Bishopbriggs for a newly formed Bishopbriggs Boys Club. In order to obtain the let at an advantageous rate he obtained recognition as an approved youth organisation. For this purpose he had to comply with a number of conditions, the most important of which was to provide two references in support of his application, each referee stating that "the leaders are known to me and are worthy of support". One of the references was signed by Councillor Ball, who by then had become the convenor of the Education Committee of Central Regional Council. In evidence Councillor Ball said that he had had misgivings about signing but felt that it was difficult to refuse. He accepted that he had not given the matter as much attention as he should have done. In his application Thomas Hamilton said that there was to be a committee of 12 adults, mostly parents. His natural mother was shown as the treasurer and a young assistant, Ian Boal, as secretary. The application was granted after an official of Central Regional Council had advised Strathclyde Regional Council that Thomas Hamilton's activities should be monitored.

5.11   In the meantime Thomas Hamilton decided that he would withdraw from personal involvement in the Falkirk Boys Club. He persuaded a parent, Mr D P Jones, to take over the leadership of the club from the second week in November. This arrangement ended in early March when Mr Jones was unable to continue on account of his work commitments. Thomas Hamilton looked in from time to time at the meetings of the Club, the last time being in January or February 1996.

5.12   Meanwhile Mr Boal, who was an undergraduate student in sport in the community, began running the Bishopbriggs Boys Club. He said in evidence that he never met the members of its committee. He had expected to be running the club himself but Thomas Hamilton appeared every week. To his annoyance Mr Boal found that Thomas Hamilton had distributed leaflets which not only named him as club coach but also gave his telephone number. In January he wrote to Mr Boal criticising his coaching methods. In response Mr Boal said that he would go on only until Easter. In evidence he said: "I wasn't going to put up with the hassle he was giving me through writing a letter like that to me". At this stage boys were being bussed to Dunblane from not only Bishopbriggs but also Callander and Bannockburn. It is known from a letter which Thomas Hamilton wrote to Mr Michael Forsyth MP on 11 February 1996, to which I will refer later, that only 5 boys from Dunblane still attended the Dunblane Boys Club, and that only one of them had attended the sports training course in July 1995. Mr Boal last saw Thomas Hamilton on 11 March when his parting words to him were "Thanks very much, Ian, see you next Monday". Mr Boal had not noticed any change in him. He said: "His personality was very dry. He wasn't the most interesting person to have a conversation with".

5.13   Thomas Hamilton applied for the use of Dunblane High School for a summer training course in 1996. Mr R Mercer who was then caretaker at the Menstrie Community Centre, gave evidence that on 12 March in a telephone conversation Thomas Hamilton requested the use of the Centre's minibus on 14 March. However, I was informed later in the Inquiry that the witness had since giving evidence indicated to the Crown that, to the best of his recollection, the accurate date for this conversation was 7 March. Little turns on this but it indicates that to outward appearances Thomas Hamilton was still actively planning for his club activities.

Thomas Hamilton's activities with firearms

5.14   While Thomas Hamilton's activities with boys were going into decline his interest in firearms was resurgent. As I will explain in Chapter 6 he appears to have been relatively inactive for a number of years until 1995. His firearm certificate did not contain any record of a purchase of ammunition between 22 October 1987 and 22 September 1995. The evidence strongly indicates that Thomas Hamilton did not reload his ammunition (an operation which would not require to be recorded on the firearm certificate) but that he purchased commercially-made ammunition. Purchases of ammunition from clubs did not require to be entered in the firearm certificate unless the ammunition was not used on the occasion when it was purchased and was taken away. Accordingly it seems unlikely that Thomas Hamilton was actively shooting to any significant extent during this period. On various occasions between 22 September 1995 and 27 February 1996 he purchased a total of 1700 rounds of 9 mm and 500 rounds of .357 ammunition. On 11 September 1995 and 23 January 1996 he purchased a 9 mm Browning pistol and a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver. He had had the authority to acquire such firearms since February 1992. These were two of the handguns which he took with him to the school on 13 March; and the 9 mm Browning pistol was the competition model (pistol A) with which he shot his victims. In January 1996 Thomas Hamilton bought two holsters, apparently for the two revolvers which he now owned.

5.15   Thomas Hamilton now became much more active as a shooter. In January 1996 he shot at the Whitestone range used by the Stirling Rifle and Pistol Club. When he attended a meeting there in February Mr G F Smith, the president of the club, noted that his shooting was reasonably good. It surprised him that he fired very rapidly all the time but he knew that this was what he always seemed to do. He said to Thomas Hamilton that with a bit of practice he ought to be going in for competitions. While he was giving him a lift home Thomas Hamilton told him that he was a coach. This surprised Mr Smith as it didn't seem to him that he was the sort of person who could get children interested. He didn't find him very interesting himself. He found him slightly effeminate and didn't particularly like him.

5.16   On 2 March Thomas Hamilton was given a lift to Largs, where the club members were to shoot. At that meeting he again fired very rapidly. He used red or orange stickers on paper targets, apparently as guides for him to aim at. Mr G S Crawford told him that that was not what they were there for and took them down. Thomas Hamilton had used similar stickers at the Whitestone Range. When Thomas Hamilton was taking part in the service pistol discipline, which includes the firing of three rounds at each of two targets at 10 metres in 6 seconds Thomas Hamilton expended 12 rounds on one target with one pistol, at which Mr Crawford said to him "that is out of order". At that meeting he was using principally the 9 mm Browning pistol which was the competition model. Mr W P Campbell, a member of the club who drove Thomas Hamilton back to Stirling, recalled that when he got out of the car in Stirling, his cousin Alexis Fawcett, who was a probationary member, and had been in the back of the car with Thomas Hamilton, referred to him saying: "That is a right weirdo, that one" and she said that he had referred to stroking his gun. She added: "He talks about guns as though they were babies".

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Prepared 16 October 1996