Children wary of ex-Scout gunman

15th March 1996 at 00:00
`Then he stood in the playground and began firing at our hut . . . There was glass flying everywhere and the girls were crying.' Shirley English, Frances Rafferty and David Henderson on the Dunblane massacre

Thomas Hamilton, the man who killed more than half of a class of young children at Dunblane primary school, had a reputation in the quiet Scottish town.

The 43-year-old bachelor from Stirling had run a five-a-side football club for primary boys, latterly in the gymnasium where he carried out the massacre. On Wednesday morning he returned to the school with four hand guns and sprayed bullets indiscriminately, killing 15 children, their teacher and then himself. A 16th child later died at hospital and as The TES went to press 12 children and three adults were being treated for injuries.

Children who spoke afterwards said that Hamilton, who had run a business in Dunblane and was a member of the local gun club, was known to them as a pervert whom they avoided. Police found photographs of semi-clad boys at the killer's home.

Gwenne Mayor, the teacher who died, was taking her class of 29 youngsters in the school gym after their religious education class when the killer burst in. Children and staff in the 600-pupil school heard the shots and Ron Taylor, the headteacher, immediately called the police.

Mr Taylor was later praised by William Wilson, chief constable of Central Scotland, as a "an enormous tower of strength".

As the news broke parents rushed from their homes to the school distraught. One mother emerged in floods of tears. Kathleen Duboulay embraced her daughters Jessica and Julie. Her husband Barry said the children had not been told what had happened. "They think there has been an incident in the kitchen."

Steven Hopper, an 11-year-old who was in a temporary classroom next to the gym said: "We heard shots being fired. Then I saw a man come through the fire exit. He was wearing a hat and earmuffs and carrying a gun. I didn't recognise him. Then he stood in the playground and began firing at our hut. About three or four shots came through our windows. We dived under our desks. There was glass flying everywhere and the girls were crying."

It later emerged that Mr Hamilton had been dismissed from the Scouting movement for improper conduct. He had recently written to the Queen complaining that his reputation had been damaged.

A spokesman for the Scouts said Mr Hamilton had been a scout leader in Stirling more than 20 years ago. "In 1974 we requested him to resign following complaints about unstable and possibly improper behaviour following a Scout camp. Since then he has made a number of attempts to come back into scouting but has never been accepted."

Gwenne Mayor, aged 45 with two grown-up daughters, was praised by shocked parents who arrived to collect their children.

Peter Smith, head of Hall Garth school, where Nicola Conroy was stabbed to death two years ago when a man burst into her classroom, said Dunblane would take a long time to get over the tragedy. Children at the Middlesbrough school still need counselling.

He said: "This will bring it all flooding back to us. I have sent a message to the head at Dunblane. My experience shows that people should be allowed to show their distress. If they want to burst into tears they should and everybody else should support them."

Peter Wilson, director of Young Minds, a campaigning organisation for children's mental health, said: "It will take weeks before the school can even pretend that it can go back to normal. Children should be encouraged to write down or draw how they feel and what they understand about the incident. "

The Queen sent her "deepest and most heartfelt sympathy" to the victims and their families. And messages of condolences flooded in from politicians and the Archbishop of Canterbury. John Major described the massacre as a "mad and evil act".

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today