CHAPTER 6 Continued...

Thomas Hamilton's possession of firearms and ammunition

Good Reason

6.26   In terms of Section 27(1) of the 1968 Act the chief officer of police requires to be 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 ....". It may be noted that the loss of a "good reason" is not a ground for revocation under Section 30(1). The Guidance to the Police states in para 6.8(e):

      "A certificate for a handgun and ammunition should not be granted (except in very rare cases) unless the applicant has regular and legitimate opportunity of using the weapon, eg for target practice as a member of a pistol shooting club.....".
Para 6.8(i) states that the 'good reason' requirement has to be demonstrated satisfactorily in respect of each firearm. Para 6.8(j) states: "It is not possible to give firm guidance as to the amount of ammunition which may be authorised by a certificate. Each case should be dealt with on its merits....".

6.27   The circumstances of the present case gave rise to discussion in the evidence and in closing submissions on a number of points which had a bearing on Thomas Hamilton's possession of firearms and ammunition, as well as having a wider significance. They were as follows.

More than one handgun of the same calibre

6.28   As I have stated earlier, on 13 March 1996 Thomas Hamilton held more than one firearm of the same calibre, both pistols and revolvers. This did not play any actual part in what happened but it was a potential factor in the event of his not being able to use one of the handguns.

6.29   It is clear from the evidence that an application for more than one handgun of the same calibre is treated by police forces, including the Central Scotland Police, as something for which the applicant has to show "good reason". Two situations were mentioned, the first being where the shooter is seeking a handgun in order to be able to compete on equal terms with other shooters engaged in a particular competition, for example, where it has been modified from the standard specification in regard to sights, barrel length or other features. The second was where in the event of mechanical failure the ability to substitute a back-up gun is seen as an advantage. A random selection of the firearms files of 12 holders of firearm certificates in the area of Central Scotland Police showed that in 10 cases there were 2 firearms of the same calibre and in 7 cases there were more than 2 such firearms.

6.30   While I can understand how positive justification for a second handgun could be provided and accepted in accordance with current practice, the position in regard to Thomas Hamilton is less persuasive. As can be seen from para 6.6, on 30 January 1986 he was given authority for the first time to acquire a second 9 mm pistol. His application for this was referred back to Sergeant Binning for full details of his reasons to be supplied. The reply to this enquiry was that Thomas Hamilton was "active in competition shooting throughout the country". At that stage he was probably a member of the Dunblane Rifle Club and perhaps he was still a member of the Clyde Valley Pistol Club. However, the statement appears to me to be an exaggeration having regard to the scale of his purchases of 9 mm ammunition in the preceding years and the fact that there is no evidence that he was engaged in competition shooting to any significant extent, let alone "throughout the country". On 17 February 1992 he was given authority to acquire not only a 9 mm pistol but also a second .357 revolver. Mr Lynch, who acted as the enquiry officer, said that Thomas Hamilton stated that he wished to buy a revolver with a longer barrel, which would be of use in absorbing recoil and improving accuracy. Mr Lynch understood that this was to enable him to take part in different disciplines. The duplicating of the 9 mm pistols would also be for competitive shooting. However, once again there was no satisfactory evidence that Thomas Hamilton was engaged in competitive shooting. Further, as I have noted in para 6.6, he had purchased no ammunition since 22 October 1987. This does not inspire me with confidence that at least in the case of Thomas Hamilton there was good reason for the authority for additional handguns of the same calibre.

Increase in ammunition

6.31   During the course of the evidence attention was drawn to the fact, as I have already noted in para 6.6, that on 31 March 1987 the certificate was varied so as to make a substantial increase in the amount of ammunition which he was authorised to hold and to purchase or acquire for each of the calibres. However, at that time he was regularly making significant purchases. The then current Guidance to the Police stated that, while each case should be dealt with on its merits, chief officers of police had accepted that for bona fide club members reasonable quantities were 1500 rounds as the maximum to be possessed at any one time; and 1000 as the maximum to be purchased at any one time. However, it is nonetheless strange that Thomas Hamilton was accorded an authorisation which was more in keeping with an allowance for those who were engaged in a substantial amount of competitive shooting.

Renewal where existing authorisation not used

6.32   Thomas Hamilton's authority to hold and acquire or purchase ammunition was renewed in 1992 and 1995 where, according to the purchases recorded on his certificate, he was not shooting to any significant extent. It might be thought that if good reason requires to be shown at the time of renewal the lack of use of what had previously been authorised would at least raise a question as to whether the good reason continued to exist. The current Guidance to the Police implies in para 6.36, as one might expect, that good reason requires to be shown for the number of rounds of ammunition proposed to be held.

6.33   A similar point arises in regard to Thomas Hamilton's lack of use of the authority which he had obtained for the acquisition of a 7.62 rifle and a .22 rifle.

6.34   At this point it is necessary for me to return to the advice given in para 6.8(e) of the Guidance to the Police which I quoted in para 6.26. Mr J Richardson, Deputy Chief Constable of Strathclyde, who prepared a report on firearms certification in respect of Thomas Hamilton from an independent standpoint, argued that this entailed that at the time of renewal enquiries should be made in order to ascertain whether the existing authorisation was being used.

6.35   Mr Taylor on behalf of Central Scotland Police submitted that all the applicant required to show was that he had a regular and legitimate opportunity for using the weapon. He did not require to show he had used the weapon. He founded on the evidence in the Green Book that the advice contained in para 6.8(e) "makes it clear to the police that membership of a target shooting club at which the applicant can (his emphasis) use a particular pistol or revolver can be regarded as a good reason for the issue of a firearm certificate to possess it, and the ammunition for it" (Part I, para 55). In other words "good reason" looked to the future. For the future the applicant might well want to increase his activity. Mr Taylor also pointed out that it would not make sense for Mr Richardson's interpretation to be applied to a situation where an application for the initial grant of a certificate was under consideration. The recording of the use of individual firearms was not provided for in firearm certificates or in the records kept by clubs. Mr Taylor's submission was, he said, consistent with the practice of Central Scotland Police where continuing membership of clubs was checked but where past usage of ammunition was not reviewed when an application for renewal was under consideration. The practice in other forces might not be entirely uniform, but it appeared that there was no general practice of making such a review in order to see whether the "good reason" still held good.

6.36   I agree with Mr Taylor that para 6.8(e) of the Guidance to the Police does not make "good reason" depend on past use. I agree that it looks to the future. However, it does not follow that para 6.8(e) should be read as if it set out the "regular and legitimate opportunity" as the sole test. There is room for the view that it should be regarded as setting out an essential condition. It may be maintained that inherent in an applicant having "good reason" is that he had an intention to use or, as the case may be, to purchase or acquire for use. If he has not used a firearm which he was previously given the authority to possess, this may cast doubt on his intention; or there may be a good explanation for it which removes the doubt. If he is able to point to past use it would be a simple and effective way of showing good reason. The same doubt could arise in the case of an authorisation to acquire a firearm which has not been used. It may be noted that para 6.21 of the Guidance to the Police, which is concerned with conditions which the chief officer of police may attach to a firearm certificate, ends with the words: "Conditions setting out arbitrary time limits for acquiring firearms and for ammunition should not be imposed. However, the chief officer may at the time of certificate renewal, enquire why an authorised acquisition has not been completed and consider the renewal in the light of the information received". It may be thought that it is not in the public interest that unused authority should continue on the mere say-so of the applicant, with the risk that acquisition might eventually be made in circumstances very different from those originally envisaged.

6.37   While there is much to be said for this interpretation I realise that, due to the way in which para 6.8(e) has been expressed, police forces have been led into thinking that only "regular and legitimate opportunity" is required. I see no reason to fault Central Scotland Police for the way in which they have interpreted language which, in my view, leaves something to be desired. I am aware from the discussion at the Inquiry that there have been differences of view among police forces throughout the United Kingdom as to the extent to which it is appropriate to take into account past use in dealing with "good reason". This is a matter which will require my attention in Chapter 8.

Unfitness to be entrusted with a firearm

6.38   Section 27(1) of the 1968 Act contains a proviso that a firearm certificate is not to be granted to inter alios "a person whom the chief officer has reason to believe ..... to be for any reason unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm". Section 30(1) provides that a firearm certificate may be revoked by the chief officer if he is "satisfied that the holder ..... is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm". It may also be noted that, unlike Section 27(1), the latter provision does not include the words "danger to the public safety or to the peace".

6.39   In the case of Thomas Hamilton it was submitted at the Inquiry that his firearm certificate should have been revoked, or at any rate not renewed. I will now set out the background against which that submission was made to me.

6.40   In para 4.69 I explained the circumstances in which DCC McMurdo received information about Thomas Hamilton's display of firearms to a family in Linlithgow towards the end of 1988. In evidence he said that he decided that no action should be taken in regard to this matter. He said that his decision was based on the considerations that Thomas Hamilton's visit was "at the instigation" of the family; that he showed them the firearms and allowed the boys to hold them; that he had been informative in his instruction as to their safe handling; that what was important was that there was no ammunition there and that at no time was the family distressed or concerned by his visit; and that he remained in possession of the firearms. However, Mr McMurdo accepted that with hindsight he could possibly have sent him a warning. It may be noted that a copy of Inspector Nimmo's memorandum in regard to this incident was not put in the firearms file relating to Thomas Hamilton, although it should have been. Further, it was not entered in criminal intelligence.

6.41   On 11 November 1991 DS Hughes addressed a memorandum to the Detective Superintendent, CID, at police headquarters relating to the investigation of the summer camp at Mullarochy Bay in July 1991 (cf para 4.45). This memorandum was written at a stage when his report was before the Procurator Fiscal. In the memorandum DS Hughes referred to the previous investigation into the activities of Thomas Hamilton and his appearance in local criminal intelligence files. He had met him on a number of occasions and recently discovered that he held a firearm certificate. He went on to state:

      "I am firmly of the opinion that Hamilton is an unsavoury character and unstable personality.

      It emerged from enquiries that he, during the course of the first week of camp, seemed to become increasingly stressed and had difficulty in managing the group. It was during one such moment that he became extremely angry and assaulted one of the boys. This particular child was in fact assaulted three times by Hamilton during the first few days of the holiday and was eventually removed by his parents.

      Furthermore, allegations were made, albeit uncorroborated, by one of the children that Hamilton induced the child to pose in various compromising positions, scantily clad in extremely ill-fitting swimming trunks, for photographs. To date these photographs have not been recovered but neither I nor the officer who interviewed the child have any reason to disbelieve that the allegations are in fact wholly true.

      Convincing corroborated evidence was uncovered which confirms that two boxes containing approximately 36 slides each have not been recovered by the police despite Mr Hamilton's claims that he handed over all of the photographs taken. Mr Hamilton has been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in this regard for obstructing the police.

      The foregoing report, in part, conveys some of the concerns which I harbour about this man. I firmly believe that he has an extremely unhealthy interest in young boys which to a degree appears to have been controlled to date. It was his ploy, whenever challenged, to engage in 'smoke screen' tactics which divert attention from the focal issue and this is the purpose for the profusion of correspondence to MPs, Procurators Fiscal, the Chief Constable and the like. I would contend that Mr Hamilton will be a risk to children whenever he has access to them and that he appears to me to be an unsuitable person to possess a firearm certificate in view of the number of occasions he has come to the adverse attention of the police and his apparent instability.

      The Procurator Fiscal at Stirling has not yet decided on whether or not he will proceed with the case against Hamilton but at the moment it appears in all likelihood that he will not.

      I respectfully request that serious consideration is given to withdrawing this man's firearm certificate as a precautionary measure as it is my opinion that he is a scheming, devious and deceitful individual who is not to be trusted".

6.42   DS Hughes had discussed his report with DCI Holden of the CID Department whose responsibilities included the Child Protection Unit. The latter wrote on the memorandum:

      "A difficult situation, - I do agree with DS Hughes' appraisal of Mr Hamilton. Do we have any latitude for progress in respect of the revocation of his certificate".

The memorandum was submitted to his superior, D/Supt Millar (now retired). He wrote on the memorandum the following note to DCC McMurdo:

    "While appreciating DS Hughes' concern, I can not recommend the action proposed for obvious reasons, ie Hamilton has not been convicted of any crime and it seems the PF is likely to No Pro the recently reported case".

    Mr Millar said in evidence that he passed the memorandum to the Deputy Chief Constable because he knew that he had been engaged in correspondence with Thomas Hamilton and because he was responsible for the issuing of firearm certificates. DCC McMurdo after considering the memorandum marked it "no action" on 11 November 1991 but did not record his reasons for so doing. I will consider later the explanation for this decision which he gave in evidence. Before making this decision he discussed the memorandum with DCI Holden but not with DS Hughes. A copy of the memorandum should have been placed in the firearms file relating to Thomas Hamilton but this was not done. Further, a copy was not entered in criminal intelligence.

    We welcome your comments on this site.
    Prepared 16 October 1996