Gun-loving loner took pictures of semi-naked boys

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The Independent Online
In the shocked hours following the Dunblane shooting, psychiatrists painted a picture of the likely killer. Thomas Hamilton fitted it perfectly.

A gun-loving unemployed loner with an unhealthy interest in children and teenagers, he had been a disturbing figure to parents in Dunblane for some years. After being kicked out of the Scouts more than 20 years ago because of concerns about his conduct he continued courting the company of young people by running his own youth groups for them.

Yesterday, snippets of stories - of photographs he took of semi-naked boys, the unexplained terror of a former youth club member - were recalled. Once suspicious, the tales now seemed sinister.

Thomas Hamilton took over running the 4/6th Stirling Scout Group in July 1973 only to be kicked out the following year when parents complained after a camp. A Scout Association spokesman said yesterday: "We requested him to hand in his leader's warrant after some complaints about unstable and possibly improper behaviour."

In the following years he made several attempts to resume as Scout leader, all rebuffed. Instead, he formed his own youth groups, including one called the Stirling Rovers for young boys at Dunblane High School. But he remained anxious to return to the Scouts. Five days ago, he is understood to have written to the Queen to plead his cause.

Simon Smiley, 15, recalled how Hamilton liked the boys to stand with their chests pushed out until their ribs showed and that he used to make them run round a hall while he videotaped them. Yet after several parents removed boys from the club, he had sent out a letter to parents denying the stories about him.

Grace Ogilvie, who lived near Hamilton's three-bedroomed council flat in the Braehead district of Stirling, said he sometimes took the boys on holiday to Loch Lomond in a van which she thought might have belonged to the council.

The bitterness that exploded with fatal results began to rankle after a dispute with Central Regional Council over his running of a youth group in 1983.

The Local Government Ombudsman backed him a year later by ruling the council's treatment of him amounted to maladministration and that they had caused him an injustice.

The issue caused a split in the council's ruling Labour group with Hamilton's own councillor at Stirling, Dr Robert Ball, backing him and stating that he had a case for the Ombudsman.

Hamilton said he understood there had been complaints about two incidents which he claimed had "grown wings".

In one case a boy had been supposed to have had a foot almost severed by an axe while they were on an island in Loch Lomond. But he said the cut was minor and the boy had received prompt medical attention. His parents had been quite satisfied about the supervision, he claimed.

In the other case a boy had been allegedly left on an island in Loch Lomond during an eight-day camp and had subsequently not been allowed to phone home to be picked up because he was homesick.

Hamilton claimed all boys had been allowed to phone home and if they wished could ask their parents to come for them at a predetermined point.

But Hamilton, while welcoming the Ombudsman's decision, said in November 1984 he was "bitter". His kitchen fitting business, built up over 14 years, had crashed because, since the council action against him, his custom had dried up.

Stirling regional councillor Frena Davidson, who lives in Dunblane, said there had been growing concern from parents in recent years. It is understood that twice, in 1993 and 1994, local police made inquiries about his activities. "Apparently, what he did latterly was to make the boys strip to their waist and change into striped underpants and then he would take photographs of them before they embarked on their sports activities," she said.

"Some boys seemed to enjoy the club, but others didn't and their parents took them away. One mother who spoke to me about him said that her son was frightened just to see him, but he would never tell her why. He was so frightened. He refused to speak about it."

Police and the council were aware of the disquiet, "but we couldn't prove anything and there was nothing we could do", the councillor said. "It was dreadful when I heard his name being mentioned this morning. We should never ignore these types of people."

One father from Dunblane told the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight how his seven-year-old son came home from his first night at a new boys' club set up in the town by Hamilton very distressed.

He claimed Hamilton "had touched him". The man said that a relative who worked for the regional council phoned later to say that a man was going to set up a club in Dunblane and he was a "dubious character" and that he should not let his children attend the club.

The father said he tracked Hamilton down to a shop he once ran in Stirling and told him to leave the area and the children. "Not to put too fine a point on it I threatened to kill him if he touched my kid again." A few days later the police turned up at the parents' home and said Hamilton had complained he had been threatened.

The parent said that Hamilton then began to write letters to him blaming him for turning parents against him. He then went round the town on a bicycle putting leaflets through doors denying the rumours that had been spread.

The parent said that he was 38 miles from Dunblane yesterday when he heard news of the carnage. "I could have named that man there and then," he said. "That's one weird, weird person".

It was not only parents who saw something disturbing in the bespectacled man in white shirt and anorak. Freelance photographer Sandy Leathley, 27, was employed by Hamilton for six weeks two years ago for work including taking pictures of boys at the clubs he ran. Mr Leathley told how Hamilton once offered to show him handguns and live ammunition, an offer he declined. "He seemed to me to be very proud that he had the guns," Mr Leathley said."There was something about him I didn't like."

Acquaintances described Hamilton as a "non-mixer, a bit of an odd-ball who never had much to say". Tragically, he was sociable enough to join the local gun club and not too odd to get a firearms licence.

Hamilton's connection to Dunblane primary school was a mystery. Yet there was perhaps one clue to his most recent state of mind in reports that just five days ago he had written to the Queen accusing the Scout Association of mounting a campaign to sully his reputation.

But as Hamilton lay dead yesterday, fears and suspicions about him had proved all too accurate.