Lest we forget Dunblane

7th March 1997 at 00:00
The gym teacher who survived being shot four times in the Dunblane massacre, in which 16 children and a teacher died, has made a passionate plea to parents and teachers to be more vigilant over television and video violence.

As the first anniversary of the tragedy looms, Eileen Harrild has spoken of her fears that gratuitous violence is desensitising a generation of children.

She believes parents are giving tacit approval by providing televisions and video cassette recorders in children's bedrooms. Thousands, she says, watch alone and late into the night with no adult company nor supervision.

"It is so isolating and it is no way to grow up," she said in an exclusive interview in today's TES. "If we as adults don't take responsibi lity for children's formative years then we are opting out of their social and moral development. We shall have only ourselves to blame."

Her plea comes as concern mounts over the level of violence on TV and video and the proliferation of violent and pornographic images on satellite and cable television. She plans to lobby politicians in the run-up to the election and continue campaigning alongside Dunblane parents for a ban on all handguns.

Two of Mrs Harrild's four children were pupils at Dunblane primary on the day of the tragedy. She spoke to The TES on the eve of a Government seminar about television violence. Senior broadcasters were told by Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley not to "duck your responsibilities". She added that the majority of viewers are concerned about the portrayal of violence.

Earlier this week the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association said more than 1,000 shootings were broadcast last year in 250 of the most violent films on television's four main channels, despite the national mood of shock following Dunblane. Twelve other children survived the tragedy alongside Mary Blake, their classroom assistant.

Next Thursday, March 13, is the first anniversary of the tragedy. It will be marked by the publicatio n of Dunblane: Our Year of Tears, a book recording the tragic events. "It was literally step, step, shoot. He only took two steps into the gym before he started," recalls Mrs Harrild, 43, the gunman's first target, whose account of the tragedy is published in TES2 this week.

"I've always had opinions - common sense views, I suppose - but what happened at Dunblane catapulted us into the limelight. It is an uncomfortable limelight but we can no longer sit back and leave things as they are."

For the past year she and her husband Tony have joined other Dunblane parents in a campaign to ban all handguns. With all the main Opposition parties pledged to support a complete ban pressure is mounting on Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth whose Stirling constituency, which includes Dunblane, has a majority of only 703.

Mr Harrild believes gun control will be an important election issue. "Quite simply he did not stand by us when we needed him."

Mr Harrild, who has written to John Major 10 days ago asking why .22 handguns are being preserved as legal weapons, said the gun lobby had "won" in the aftermath of the Hungerford massacre by retaining handguns - even though nine of the 16 victims were killed with handguns. But he hoped that Dunblane could be a turning point, at which the British public reassessed its attitude towards violence. "If we can look back in 30 or 40 years time and say that this was a watershed, then some goodness will have been achieved."

Mr Harrild said he and his wife did not want to preach to the public, nor did they expect to change minds overnight.

He drew parallels between Dunblane, the killing of headteacher Philip Lawrence and the machete attack in a Wolverhampton school. "We just hope that people will learn from our experience and be persuaded."

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