Dunblane tragedy

15th March 1996 at 00:00
Dunblane - small, quiet, prosperous - is among the least likely places in Scotland, or anywhere else in the British Isles, where one would expect an atrocity like that on Wednesday. But in fact nowhere is more likely than any other to be the scene for a school attack which is as unbelievable as it is horrific.

It may seem superfluous to add our sympathy to that expressed by so many others to everyone connected with Dunblane primary, but even outside Scotland's small and close education system there is a feeling of dreadful loss that binds schools and teachers way beyond Scotland's boundaries to all who are involved in any way.

Inevitably, some immediate talk is of increased security at all schools, but that seems a misplaced although understandable reaction. Angry and impotent, everyone wants action. Unable to share fully in the grief which devastates those most immediately affected, observers call for intervention by officialdom to ensure that a similar tragedy cannot happen again. Yet in the immediate aftermath, a calm desire to try to understand the circumstances before reaching conclusions is the sensible response and one which, to their credit, most MPs and commentators were making on Wednesday.

Violence in schools comes in many forms, although fortunately serious incidents remain so rare that the murder of a pupil or, as in London just before Christmas, that of a headteacher is shocking news. When teachers rightly seek better protection for themselves and their pupils and when they lobby ministers and obtain official reports, they are not dreaming of incidents like that at Dunblane. Totally irrational behaviour with devastating consequences cannot be legislated for or probably guarded against.

As it happens, the report on security commissioned by Ministers after the murder of Philip Lawrence is due shortly to be published. Its recommendations on closed-circuit television, staff training, and limiting the number of entrances to schools will all command wide support, and their implementation should help to make pupils and staff feel more secure.

But they won't work everywhere, and they wouldn't have been very practicable on the scattered Dunblane site, especially since the gunman knew his way around the school and must have been known to staff there. And how can you train staff or children anywhere to react instantly to the presence of any unfamiliar visitor?

Sadly, what will be most help now in Dunblane is the advice on counselling that will come from Hall Garth school in Middlesbrough, where a schoolgirl was killed by an intruder two years ago.

That said, there will be a full inquiry aimed at learning any lessons at all. Society cannot simply throw up its hands and let the occasional madman have his rampage. Not to seek the truth about motive and opportunity would be to dishonour the memory of those who have died. Out of the bleakest moment there has to come some blink of hope that a future incident can be prevented or its effects minimised.

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