On 13 March 1996 Thomas Hamilton, 43, entered Dunblane Primary School near Stirling in Scotland and committed the worst ever recorded murderous act on children in the UK.

Studying mass gun killers is not a simple science but can their ultimate actions be predicted. They are often complex individuals, but they invariably share some common traits. They will often have an uncompromising vain belief in themselves, even delusions of grandeur. But that can be accompanied with strong feelings of anger and resentment. Their unfulfilled desires and dire situations are always the fault of other people or organisations. The problem is when they have access to firearms.

Thomas Hamilton was no exception and neither were Barry Williams 1978, Michael Ryan 1987, Derrick Bird 2010 and Jake Davison in 2021. They are shocking stories. Supposedly responsible people ignored warning signs and officials failed to instigate procedures. Each of these men had a history. Some had performed bizarre confrontational acts, two had committed crimes. There was something about each and every one of these men, they had all prompted questions and some had performed practises that had aroused suspicion. But nobody did anything.

Mass shooters are often loners who have had troubled relationships. They see their planned monstrous platform as a means of total control. For their victims and those close to them it is a just punishment. Killings will invariably be perpetrated in daytime and in locations that will cause maximum effect. Ending their own life at the end of a killing spree is the ultimate controlling conclusion to their end game. Not in all cases, and that is why it is so complex. The Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik gave himself up to police after his killing spree in on the island of Utoya in July 2011. He commented to the arresting police officers about how exhausting it was to shoot 69 people to death. That is hard to imagine isn’t it. Those police officers showed great restraint.

In the UK, Thomas Hamilton, 43, shared many traits with Michael Ryan, the 27 year old loner who perpetrated the Hungerford Massacre in Berkshire in August 1987. He shot and killed 16 people. Ryan though sullen was outwardly quiet and could be very polite. Hamilton was a very vocal complainer. Both were licenced to own firearms and both developed an unhealthy regard for them. Despite their similarities and differences the pair were harbouring dark issues.

Ryan started to illegally carry guns on his person and in his vehicle at work locations, he even admitted it to colleagues, sometimes showing them. He informed one manager, Charles Armor that he would go out at night and discharge guns at roadside structures even on one occasion giving him a specific location on the A338 to Shefford, north of Hungerford. Armor went there and to his horror found the dangerous evidence. Intending to report this he did nothing further when Ryan suddenly quit his job. Following the Hungerford Massacre this is a portion of one of the official reports.


20. No adverse information about RYAN’s suitability to hold shotgun or Firearms Certificates ever came to police notice, although enquiries since 19 August have indicated that at one time RYAN regularly carried one or more of his pistols around with him in his car and that he occasionally ‘took potshots’ at road signs with them. Damage to a road sign in Hungerford, consistent with the discharge of pistols, has since been found.

Thomas Hamilton was a member and regular visitor to his gun club. He had aroused some concern amongst some members. Despite being regarded as a safe operator he drew attention to himself by a liking for discharging rapidly delivered shots at paper range targets. Members admitted feeling uneasy in his presence. He was acting in the same disturbing way as the mass killer Barry Williams who in October 1978 embarked on a killing spree with his licenced handgun and shot and killed five people. He had done exactly the same at his own club’s ranges and he also had made other members feel uneasy. He had insisted on placing wigs on some feature targets to add realism. In both cases nobody in their respective clubs said or did anything outside of their organisations.

Thomas Hamilton’s business ventures invariably went wrong, and he was often in debt. He had however always had an interest in young boys. Indeed, his work as a volunteer in regional and local Scout Groups had been initially praised but his peculiar manner in the company of children did not escape attention and he had his Scout warrant withdrawn as far back as 1974.There was something very wrong with Thomas Hamilton and people were recognising it. He set up his own boys clubs without any authority or qualification and managed to attract some interest. He was an incessant complainer and letter writer, always countering complaints made about him. Local councilors, scout group and school officials, MP’s and police officers. They all unknowingly had the written start of a vendetta in front of them. Complaints about him continued and specifically about how Hamilton was acting around the boys in his club activities and during the camps he was organising. Inappropriate photographs, mistreating, administering punishments, assaults and bullying. Nothing official happened but his clubs started to fail.

Hamilton had cause to hire a minibus on occasions and made it known to some of the people around him that he generally carried one of his hand guns with him for supposed personal protection. He would welcome any opportunity to display his guns in front of children and their parents. In February 1996 Hamilton was visited by James Gillespie who informed him that he wouldn’t allow his children to join any of his organisations. Allegedly Hamilton pointed an unloaded 9mm Browning at him and squeezed the trigger on an empty chamber. Gillespie was shocked but he didn’t report it.

Like Michael Ryan and despite his legal firearm status Hamilton was committing serious firearms offences before the shooting he embarked on and people who later would merely protest ignorance, had known about it. The pair of them had been grossly undermining the trust placed in them by their respective Police Forces and that of their communities. When one considers that less than 5% of the UK population are legitimately involved with firearms and shooting sports it is no wonder the vast majority of us don’t understand the legalities and responsibilities surrounding private gun ownership.

If society is going to forgive itself for not getting involved in such issues surely the authorities in place to protect us can be relied upon. An astute and responsible police officer set out to do just that. He had recognised the danger Hamilton had overtly displayed. Hamilton was investigated by Detective Sergeant Hughes from the child protection unit in Bannockburn who wrote a report in November 1991 which included the following comments.

“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 adverse attention of the police and his apparent instability……..
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.”

It was and still is a common view that the laws governing the licensing of firearms in the UK are insufficient. Perhaps the poignant statement above indicates that that is not the case, it is how they are implemented. The recommendation submitted by DS Hughes was totally ignored by senior police officers. The reason was simply because Hamilton had not actually committed any crime. Nevertheless, if you look at the behaviour of Hamilton and indeed Ryan and Williams before their killing sprees it is deeply disturbing and revealing. Whatever the arguments, the tragic end game horror these three outliers perpetrated did not just suddenly manifest itself out of nowhere.

Before Hamilton had entered the school on that morning, he had cut phone lines with a pair of pliers. He had unknowingly just cut off phones for some nearby properties. He walked into the school carrying four handguns, two 9mm semi-auto Browning’s and two .357 Smith & Wesson revolvers. Initially firing 2 shots into the stage in the assembly hall he entered the gymnasium and in less than 4 minutes he shot 32 victims within the vicinity. A total of 15 children and their teacher died at the scene. Another child died later in an ambulance. Hamilton shot himself dead with one of his revolvers. He had fired a total of 103 rounds.

As a result of Hungerford and Dunblane changes have been made to firearms licencing and vetting procedures and certain weapons have now been banned, the most notable being the hand gun ban which followed Dunblane. Whilst it is true that since Dunblane there has not been a repeat of this type of murder the ban on weapons has only affected legitimate shooters. It is considered now that there are more illegally held hand guns in the UK than there ever was.

The fact that Hamilton, Ryan, Williams, Bird and Davison were legal licence holders might be significant, their legality and legitimacy may have been something they all actually craved. To them perhaps, being officially licenced to own firearms was an indication that they were accepted members of society. With supposedly no clear and established criminal records or a process employed by the authorities of looking more closely at their behaviour the system was painfully slow to act and by then it was too late.

None of these monsters in retrospect were responsible balanced and caring individuals, others knew it and the writing, in bold capitals, had long been on the wall.

The young Dunblane victims were all aged 5, just Brett McKinnon was 6.

  • Victoria Elizabeth Clydesdale
  • Emma Elizabeth Crozier
  • Melissa Helen Currie
  • Charlotte Louise Dunn
  • Kevin Allan Hasell
  • Ross William Irvine
  • David Charles Kerr
  • Mhairi Isabel MacBeath
  • Brett McKinnon
  • Abigail Joanne McLennan
  • Emily Morton
  • Sophie Jane Lockwood North
  • John Petrie
  • Joanna Caroline Ross
  • Hannah Louise Scott
  • Megan Turner
  • Gwen Mayor (age 45 – Teacher)

In 2000, Sophie North’s father Mick North published – DUNBLANE NEVER FORGET