Dunblane massacre: shooting at Dunblane Primary School remembered 25 years on from the tragedy

Thomas Hamilton opened fire on a class of primary one pupils in 1996 killing 16 pupils and one teacher

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 1:49 pm
Prime Minister John Major and opposition leader Tony Blair bring their floral tributes to Dunblane Primary School after the shooting (Getty Images)

This weekend will mark 25 years since the Dunblane massacre.

Teacher Gwen Mayor and 16 children were killed on 13 March 1996 when gunman Thomas Hamilton invaded a primary school in the small Scottish town.

The mass shooting is the deadliest in British history and resulted in the government bringing in some of the tightest firearms legislation in the world.

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Flowers are laid at the gates of Dunblane Primary School where 16 children and their teacher were shot by Thomas Hamilton (Getty Images)

Lorraine Kelly presents a new ITV documentary to mark the disaster’s anniversary, Return to Dunblane, which airs on 11 March at 9pm.

Here is what happened in Dunblane as we remember the massacre 25 years on.

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What happened in Dunblane?

Thomas Hamilton, a 43-year-old shopkeeper who lived in the town, entered Dunblane Primary School on the morning of 13 March 1996.

Armed with four handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition, purchased legally under the UK firearm laws at the time, he made his way to the school gym where teacher Gwen Mayor was teaching her primary one pupils.

Over the course of four minutes, Hamilton opened fire on the class of children, shooting 32 people.

PE teacher Eileen Harrild and teaching assistant Mary Blake were injured but managed to shelter as many children as they could inside a gym cupboard while Hamilton fired shots.

A total of 16 pupils were fatally injured, all aged six or under.

Mayor was the 17th person to be shot, and it is believed that she was trying to shield the children from the gunman.

Hamilton then opened fire at an adjacent mobile classroom and into the playground, but none of these shots hit anyone as students were lying on the floor at their teachers’ instruction.

He then returned to the gym, chose another gun and shot himself in the mouth.

Who was Thomas Hamilton?

A motive for the fatal attack that shocked the small community was never established.

Glasgow-born Hamilton, who was described as a loner, had sparked concerns among locals after setting up a number of boys’ clubs over the years in which he taught shooting, gymnastics and sports.

The clubs were initially popular and well-attended but his reportedly strange behaviour towards members eventually led to them shutting down.

A report in The Independent, published after the massacre, said that the “boys whom he ordered to strip and run around in swimming trunks laughed at him behind his back and called him Mr Creepy”.

His neighbours told the newspaper that they had “occasionally looked through Hamilton’s windows and saw the disturbing [but not blatantly pornographic] pictures of boys in swimming trunks covering his walls”.

Tennis star Andy Murray, who was a student at the primary school when the massacre happened, later said he had gone to Hamilton’s boys’ clubs as a child.

Who were the victims?

The massacre claimed the lives of 16 five and six-year-olds, along with their teacher.

The victims, who will be commemorated on the tragedy’s 25 anniversary, were:

Gwen Mayor (teacher)
Sophie North
Victoria Clydesdale
Ross Irvine
Mhairi Isabel MacBeath
Melissa Helen Currie
Megan Turner
Kevin Hassell
John Petrie
Joanna Ross
Hannah Scott
Emma Crozier
Emily Morton
David Kerr
Charlotte Dunn
Brett McKinnon
Abigail McLennan.

In a statement, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The Dunblane tragedy is one of the darkest days in Scotland's history.

"The local community has shown great resilience in the years since - however, as we mark this anniversary, all my thoughts are with the families and those most directly affected, all of whom should be allowed the time and space to commemorate in their own way."

What gun laws were brought in after the massacre?

Following the mass shooting, residents of Dunblane started the Snowdrop Campaign, named after the spring flower that was in bloom during the time of the massacre.

The campaign sought changes to handgun laws in the UK and a petition racked up around 750,000 signatures.

A letter written by the mother of one of the children who was killed in the shooting was also printed in two national newspapers.

Within a year of the tragedy, John Major’s Conservative government passed a law banning private ownership of handguns above .22 calibre.

Then, the Labour government extended this ban to cover all handguns.

Security requirements for gun clubs were also expanded.

After the new laws were passed, gun killings in the UK dropped significantly.