Chapter 6

Thomas Hamilton's possession of firearms and ammunition



Introduction

6.1    In this chapter I will be concerned with this question - How was it that Thomas Hamilton came to hold the firearms and ammunition which he did on 13 March 1996? After setting out the history of what he was authorised to, and did acquire, from 1977 until his death, I will examine the system of certification as operated by Central Scotland Police; and against that background the circumstances in which it has been maintained that his firearms certificate should have been revoked, or at any rate not renewed, before 13 March 1996. I will conclude with some observations on the system.

History of authorisation and acquisition

6.2    I set out below the history of the granting, variation and renewal of his firearm certificate (in italics); his purchases and sales of firearms; and the general level of his purchases of ammunition, as shown on his firearm certificate. The evidence indicates that he did not reload ammunition. With the possible exception of some purchases at clubs, which did not require to be recorded, his purchases of ammunition can be taken to be those shown on the certificate.

6.3    On 14 February 1977 Thomas Hamilton was granted a firearm certificate authorising him to purchase or acquire a .22 target pistol; and to hold 1,000 rounds of .22 ammunition, and to purchase or acquire 500 rounds at any one time.

In his application "good reason" was given as target shooting at Callander Shooting Club or other suitable clubs and ranges.

On 20 February 1977 he purchased a .22 Vostok semi-automatic pistol. On 17 March 1977 he sold it and purchased a .22 Smith & Wesson revolver.

On 30 August 1977 the certificate was varied retrospectively to cover the purchase of the revolver; and to authorise him to purchase or acquire a .22 rifle and a .22 semi-automatic pistol.

On 13 September 1977 and 1 August 1978 he purchased a .22 Anschutz rifle and a .22 Browning pistol respectively.

On 3 December 1979 the certificate was varied to enable him to purchase or acquire a .357 revolver and a .270 rifle; and to hold 100 rounds each of .357 and .270 ammunition, and to purchase or acquire 50 rounds each at any one time.

In his application "good reason" was given as full-bore target shooting at ranges at Dunblane and under Hamilton Police Office. He also stated that he was a member of the Dunblane Rifle Club, and that he was awaiting membership of the Clyde Valley Pistol Club.

On 4 and 5 December 1979 he purchased a .357 Smith and Wesson revolver and a .270 Sako rifle. He owned the revolver until his death when he used it to commit suicide.

In 1977, 1978 and 1979 he purchased 6,500, 2,000 and 3,800 rounds of .22 ammunition respectively; and in 1979 190 rounds of .357 and 220 of .270.

6.4    On 14 February 1980 the certificate was renewed on the existing basis.

In his application "good reason" was given as target shooting per condition 5 on the certificate (ie on ranges covered by a safety certificate or by permission from the Ministry of Defence), with Dunblane Rifle Club and Clyde Valley Pistol Club, and other clubs on invitation.

In 1980, 1981 and 1982 he purchased 2,000, 1,000 and 4,000 rounds of .22 ammunition respectively.

6.5    On 17 January 1983 the certificate was varied to enable him to purchase or acquire a .22 LR rifle. On 14 February 1983 the certificate was renewed on the existing basis.

On 15 January 1983 he purchased a .22 Browning LR rifle.

On 26 October 1984 he sold the .270 Sako rifle and the .22 Browning LR rifle; and on 27 October 1984 he sold the .22 Browning pistol and the .22 Smith & Wesson revolver which he had purchased on 17 March 1977.

On 6 November 1984 the certificate was varied to enable him to purchase or acquire a 9 mm pistol and a .223 rifle; and to hold 200 rounds each of 9 mm, .223 and .38 special ammunition, and to purchase or acquire 100 rounds of each at any one time.

In his application "good reason" was stated as per condition 5. Thereafter no further specification was provided.

On 7 November and 7 December 1984 he purchased a 9 mm Browning pistol and a .223 Browning rifle respectively.

In 1983 and 1984 he purchased 1,500 and 3,000 rounds of .22 ammunition respectively; and in 1984 350 rounds of 9 mm, 200 of .223 and 200 of .38 special. On 17 December 1984 he was issued with a replacement certificate as the ammunition table on his existing certificate was full.

On 3 June 1985 he sold the .22 Anschutz rifle.

6.6    On 30 January 1986 the certificate was varied to enable him to purchase or acquire a 7.62 rifle and another 9 mm pistol; and to hold 200 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, and to purchase or acquire 100 rounds at any one time. On 14 February 1986 the certificate was renewed on the existing basis.

On 18 February 1986 he purchased a 9 mm Beretta pistol.

In 1985 and 1986 respectively he purchased 850 and 500 rounds of 9 mm ammunition; 100 and 50 of .357; 900 and 350 of .38 special; and 320 and 440 of .223. In 1986 he also purchased 100 rounds of 7.62 ammunition.

On 31 March 1987 the certificate was varied to enable him to purchase or acquire a .22 rifle. The authority to hold ammunition (9 mm, .223, .38 special, .357 and 7.62) was increased to 1,500 rounds of each; and to purchase or acquire to 1000 rounds of each at any one time..

In 1987 he purchased 900 rounds of 9 mm ammunition, 250 of .357 and 620 of .223. Between 22 October 1987 and 22 September 1995 he purchased no ammunition.

6.7    The certificate was renewed on 14 February 1989, with continuing authority to purchase or acquire a .22 rifle and a 7.62 rifle.

On 18 March 1989 he surrendered the .223 Browning rifle, as a consequence of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988; and on 27 November 1990 he sold the 9 mm Beretta pistol.

6.8    The certificate was renewed as from 17 February 1992 and he was given authority to purchase or acquire a .357 revolver and a 9 mm pistol; with authority to hold 1,500 rounds each of 9 mm, .357, .38 special, 7.62 and .22 ammunition; and to purchase or acquire 1,000 rounds of each at any one time.

6.9    On 28 February 1995 the certificate was renewed on the existing basis.

On 11 September 1995 and 23 January 1996 he purchased a 9 mm Browning pistol and a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver.

Between 22 September 1995 and 27 February 1996 he purchased a total of 1,700 rounds of 9 mm and 500 rounds of .357 ammunition. He made no purchase after the latter date.

6.10   From the above it may be noted that

    1. of the 4 handguns which Thomas Hamilton had with him at the school on 13 March 1996, he acquired the two 9 mm Browning pistols on 7 November 1984 and 11 September 1995; and the two Smith & Wesson revolvers on 4 December 1979 and 23 January 1996.

    2. the 1,216 rounds of 9 mm ammunition held by him on 13 March 1996 can be compared with an authority to hold 1,500 rounds; and the 522 rounds of .357 ammunition may be compared with authority to hold 1,500. It should also be noted that .38 special ammunition could also be used in the revolvers, so that in effect he had authority to hold 3,000 rounds suitable for use with them.

    3. Thomas Hamilton had not used the authority to acquire a 7.62   rifle (as from 30 January 1986); and a .22 rifle (as from 31 March 1987). However, since 1986 he had held 100 rounds of 7.62   ammunition.

The system for certification as operated by Central Scotland Police

6.11   Central Scotland Police required to operate a system in accordance with the Firearms Act 1968, as amended, and the Firearms (Scotland) Rules 1989 (which for present purposes can be taken to be in substantially the same terms as the corresponding Firearms Rules of the same year which apply in England). They also were expected to have regard to the advice contained in Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police, issued by the Home Office, the present version of which was published in 1989.

6.12   Section 27(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 provides as follows:

      "A firearm certificate shall be granted by the chief officer of police if he is satisfied that the applicant has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring, the firearm or ammunition in respect of which the application is made, and can be permitted to have it in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace:

      Provided that a firearm certificate shall not he granted to a person whom the chief officer of police has reason to believe to be prohibited by this Act from possessing a firearm to which section 1 of this Act applies, or to be of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or to be for any reason unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm".

6.13   Section 30(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 provides that:

      "A firearm certificate may be revoked by the chief officer of police for the area in which the holder resides if -

      1. the chief officer is satisfied that the holder is prohibited by this Act from possessing a firearm to which section 1 of this Act applies or is of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm; or....."

6.14   The work carried out by the police in regard to firearm applications fell into two main parts, the first being concerned with the carrying out of enquiries; and the second with the carrying out of administration by the firearms department.

6.15   The enquiries were carried out by serving constables, subject to the qualification that as from 1991 renewals in part of the force area were dealt with by a civilian examiner, Mr N J Lynch. For the present I will describe the procedure in cases with which he was not involved.

6.16   The receipt of an application for grant, or, as the case might be, a computer-generated reminder that an existing certificate was due to expire, led to an officer being allocated to the task of enquiry. At a prearranged time he would call on the applicant (or holder) and in the course of a brief visit check the proposed (or current) security; and would check the firearms and ammunition when these were already held. He would also discuss the reason for which they were held or proposed to be acquired. It is likely that he would also see the existing certificate where one was due for renewal.

6.17   The enquiry officer was also expected to check whether there was anything recorded against the applicant (or holder) with the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) and on the Police National Computer (PNC). The SCRO provides a record of convictions (presently not including road traffic convictions, which may be found through the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA)): and of pending prosecutions. The PNC provides UK-wide information about persons who are wanted, missing or suspected or are disqualified from driving. In terms of a force memorandum dated 22 October 1990 a check also required to be made on the force's criminal intelligence. The officer was also expected to check that the counter-signatory required by the application form had duly signed it.

6.18   After concluding these enquiries the officer was required to complete a form RL3a. This form was replaced in 1990; and in its latter version it required him to answer yes or no to the question: "Is the applicant a suitable person to hold a firearm certificate?" If he answered no, he had to provide details on a separate sheet. If the SCRO or PNC had provided a trace, a print-out was to be attached to the form. No reference was made on the form to criminal intelligence. The form then asked: "What are the applicant's reasons for requiring the firearm(s) or ammunition for which application is made? If for competition, applicant must be a member of a club. If for sport, applicant must have land permission. Specify reasons for each firearm". Thereafter the form provided for information to be given in regard to the firearms held; the reason for duplicate calibre firearms, if applicable; the suitability of the intended locations for the firearms; and the arrangements for their security.

6.19   The officer's sergeant was expected to review the completed form. Depending upon the experience of the enquiry officer and the trust which was placed in him, the sergeant would ask such questions as he considered necessary in order to satisfy himself that the enquiry had been satisfactorily completed; and would sign the form to signify that he was satisfied. The sergeant was also available to give advice should the enquiry officer encounter a problem.

6.20   The form was then passed up the normal supervisory chain of command with each officer checking that the form had been completed correctly and being able to add any information or intelligence which he considered relevant. In the event that additional information was seen to be required the form would be returned to the sergeant to have this attended to. The form in due course reached the divisional commander who would satisfy himself that all checks had been carried out and all details had been noted correctly, but would not look behind the answers given in the form. Unless there was information indicating to the contrary he would pass on the form with a recommendation to the chief inspector of firearms that the application be granted.

6.21   In the firearms department the application and the form were checked administratively to see that the historical paperwork in the firearms file tallied with their details. The force standing orders relating to firearms and shot guns provided that it was the duty of all officers to bring to the attention of the Chief Constable any information relating to a firearm or shot gun certificate holder which might warrant revocation of that person's certificate(s). Such information was intended to be placed in the firearms file for that person. Up to May 1995 the form RL3a and the firearm file were passed to the chief inspector of firearms. Thereafter they were passed to the inspector in charge only if there was a problem with the application.

6.22   In the cases in which the enquiry officer was Mr Lynch the procedure was the same, save that until May 1992 he reported directly to the chief inspector of firearms; and as from then he passed the form RL3a to the firearms department. The chief inspector of firearms would be available for consultation; and would be involved if the firearms file contained any information which had been placed there during the currency of the certificate or if any trace had been found during the checks referred to in para 6.17.

6.23   If there was no problem with the application the newly completed certificate would be passed, without the firearms file, to the Deputy Chief Constable for signature on behalf of the Chief Constable. If there was a problem the firearms file would also be passed to him.

6.24   It may be noted that the firearms file was not scrutinised prior to the form RL3a reaching the firearms department.

6.25   In the area of Central Scotland Police there are approximately 1,214 firearm certificates and 3,420 shot gun certificates.


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Prepared 16 October 1996