Families begin painful journey to the 'truth'

Dunblane massacre: Scottish town relives nightmare of 13 March as inquiry opens into slaughter of 16 pupils and their teacher
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The harrowing journey to arrive at what Lord Cullen has called "the truth" behind the slaughter of a primary class of innocent children and their teacher, will begin today for the families of the dead of Dunblane.

Sheltered high in the balcony area seating of the Albert Halls in Stirling, the parents and relatives will look down, for the six- to-eight weeks of the public inquiry, on to the courtroom organisation that has transformed the hall into Scotland's newest legal arena.

It is hoped the balcony will provide a safety zone, away from the international media corps, for those who may now hear for the first time of the events which led Thomas Hamilton to massacre 16 children and their teacher, before turning a gun on himself on 13 March.

In private last week, the parents and relatives of the victims met Lord Cullen, the senior Scottish judge who will head the inquiry, and the Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, who will lead questioning for the Crown. The families unanimously requested that details of the injuries suffered by the victims should not be explored in detail at the inquiry.

It is understood that their wishes will be respected when the first of the 60 witnesses, who will give their evidence over the next three days, is heard today.A ballistics expert, pathologists, senior doctors and paramedics, teachers and others who were the first to witness the horrors inside the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School, are expected to deliver a "general outline".

What form the general outline will take will be determined today in the opening addresses of the five groups who have full legal representation at the inquiry: the parents of the injured or dead; the Scottish teachers' union, the EIS; Central Scotland Police; Central Region Council and Ron Taylor, the head teacher of Dunblane Primary.

Inevitably for close relatives, the parents of the dead and injured and those from the school and town who choose to attend, the inquiry proceedings will mean an emotional journey as they are forced to relive the nightmare memories of 13 March.

Lord Cullen has expressed the wishes given to him at last week's meeting that "at such a difficult and stressful time" parents and relatives did not wish to be approached, photographed or sketched by the media. The highly-respected judge, who led the lengthy inquiry into the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion, was appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, to conduct the tribunal.

His report, expected by the end of September, will address recommendations on the control of the possession and use of firearms and ammunition, school security and the vetting and supervision of adults working with children.

Given the broad brief by Parliament to examine "the circumstances leading up to and surrounding" the mass murders of teacher Gwen Mayor and 16 of her infant school pupils, the tribunal is likely to investigate the apparently child-obsessed background of the 43-year-old killer, Thomas Hamilton, and how he was legally allowed to keep firearms.

In his opening statement to the inquiry's preliminary hearing earlier this month, Lord Cullen said: "I shall endeavour to arrive at the truth."

Since the shootings there has been mounting pressure on the Government to tighten the laws on firearm ownership. The recommendations from the Cullen Inquiry will be crucial to the outcome of the current gun laws debate. The Government has said it will await the inquiry's findings before it decides on a course of action.