Dunblane club run like Hitler Youth, says MP

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The Independent Online
The shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, George Robertson, yesterday told how he removed his young son from a boys' club run by Thomas Hamilton after becoming alarmed at its "Hitler Youth" image.

Mr Robertson told the Cullen inquiry into the Dunblane massacre of 16 pupils and their teacher how Hamilton later confronted him to seek an explanation - and how he sent him packing. So worried were Mr Robertson and other Dunblane parents about Hamilton's activities that they sought to have them curbed. And there was "absolute despair" on their part when Hamilton managed to secure a ruling by the ombudsman upholding his complaint about the council suspending his lettings, Mr Robertson said.

The MP for Hamilton, who lives in Dunblane and was giving evidence on the inquiry's 15th day, told how he raised his concern with the man who is now his chief political opponent, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Stirling. But Mr Forsyth's initial response was one of caution.

Mr Robertson told the inquiry how his son Malcolm, then aged 10, started attending one of Hamilton's clubs at Dunblane High School in 1983. But after going three or four times, the boy missed one session - and Hamilton wrote a letter to him seeking an explanation. Mr Robertson's wife's response was: "How dare you write to my son? He is in the cubs, he goes to school, and a swimming club - and if he is absent, they don't write to him, they write to me."

With another parent, Mr Robertson went to a club session to see what was happening there - and was struck by the "military" atmosphere they saw as they watched, unnoticed, for about 10 minutes.

"I was struck very quickly by the bizarre nature of what was happening inside the gymnasium. There were large numbers of small boys in shorts being bossed around by two to three middle-aged men swaggering around in a very military type of way - a bit like the Hitler Youth, there was certainly a military element in that."

So alarmed was he and the other father that they decided to withdraw their sons immediately. Hamilton came to Mr Robertson's house the next day wanting to know his reasons for withdrawing his son - but Mr Robertson said he did not have to give him reasons.

After that, Mr Robertson and some other parents raised their concern that a club could be run by someone with no apparent qualifications and no background checks. Hamilton's letting was suspended, and Hamilton waged a campaign against this. Mr Robertson took his concerns to Michael Forsyth, as MP for Stirling, at a private meeting at Westminster. But when Mr Forsyth asked him for details, it was difficult to say what exactly was worrying about Hamilton.

In detailing correspondence with Hamilton over the years, Mr Forsyth told the inquiry: "From 1988 there were numerous letters from Hamilton. He had a capacity to focus in on detailed points and pursue them with a terrier-like quality." But he only met Hamilton two or three times over the years.

The inquiry continues.