Hamilton questioned boy to plan killings

The Dunblane tragedy: For two years, killer quizzed one pupil on school's layout
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Thomas Hamilton may have been planning for more than two years to massacre children at the Dunblane school assembly, it emerged at the Cullen inquiry yesterday.

The inquiry heard that Hamilton had, for two years, questioned a nine- year-old boy from one of his boys' clubs about directions inside the Primary School. He also quizzed the boy about precise times of the school assembly and when the younger children would all be gathered together.

In a chilling statement read out at the inquiry before Lord Cullen in Stirling, the nine-year-old pupil, whose name was not given, revealed he had inadvertently told Hamilton that the school's weekly assembly on Wednesdays started at 9.30am, not the actual time of 9.00am. Since the assembly alternated between lower- and upper-age groups, the implication is that at around 9.30am on 13 March this year, Hamilton must have arrived at the school expecting a large gathering of the younger children, aged between five and eight, about half the schools' population. Armed, as the inquiry has already heard, with four handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition, Hamilton had enough bullets to wipe out the entire school.

The boy had attended one of Hamilton's boys clubs for three or four years. On the night of Thursday, 7 March, the club had been playing football. In the middle of the game, according to the boy's statement: "Mr Hamilton ... asked me the way to the gym and the main way into the school. He asked me about directions once he was in the main hall, how to get to the gym and where the stage was. He asked me how to get to the assembly hall and I told him to turn right after the main entrance."

Hamilton was also curious about when "all the people go on the stage to do the play". He also wanted to know when the assembly started. With information that may have inadvertently saved scores of lives, the boy replied: "Nine-thirty for assembly." He did not tell Hamilton the time for gym. The boy's statement continued: "Mr Hamilton asked me these questions every single week."

The inquiry also heard of two events in the run up to the massacre in March. One week before the shooting, in Stirling town-centre, Hamilton had met a retired police shooting instructor he had known for years. John Wilson, 64, told the inquiry Hamilton had asked advice on shooting "from 10 yards". Mr Wilson said he told Hamilton he had tinnitus and no longer shot.

Hamilton then brought up the subject of the Hungerford massacre. At Hungerford in 1987 during a spree massacre, 16 people were shot dead and others injured. Mr Wilson added: "[Hamilton] said that when Michael Ryan had started shooting the police had been scared to go in." Hamilton's comments were "anti-police" according to Mr Wilson and he told Hamilton "Ryan was hidden and the police would have been targets ... these nutters normally kill themselves because they don't want to be wounded by the police. And it was better that they did." After slaughtering 16 pupils of Primary One and their teacher, Hamilton put a revolver in his mouth and shot himself.

Another incident, in February, was reported by James Gillespie, 38, who had known Hamilton for more than 20 years. During a visit by Mr Gillespie to Hamilton's home, Hamilton, who was cleaning a Browning pistol, lifted the gun, pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. The gun was empty. "I told him he was a stupid bastard, threw coffee at him and left smartly," said Mr Gillespie, adding: "I got a fright. I never contacted him again ... he gave me the idea he was dangerous."

Although Hamilton's firearms certificates do not show it, Mr Gillespie said he believed Hamilton at one time owned a machine gun.