and JOHN McKIE
Thomas Hamilton spent 20 years spreading a network of clubs for young boys across Scotland, playing a game of cat and mouse with officials who repeatedly tried to stop him.
As recently as last week, the 43-year-old loner gathered youngsters as young as eight for "football training" - which involved showing them his gun catalogue and offering them presents.
Councils across central Scotland had heard of Hamilton, his penchant for young boys, his weekends away at camp and the complaints he invariably attracted from parents. But every time they rooted him out, he moved on somewhere else.
Yesterday it emerged that since his sacking as a Scout leader in 1974, Hamilton had set up his unofficial boys' clubs in at least 14 areas, including Bannockburn, Dunfermline, Falkirk, Alva, Balfron, Stirling, Linlithgow, Bishopbriggs, Bonnybridge and Dunblane.
The most recent was established in Bishopbriggs, on the outskirts of Glasgow, a location he knew would take him outside the Central Regional Council area where he was best-known.
His last class there, at Thomas Muir High School, was held on Monday night. He had been there since October, but was already arousing suspicion.
Sam Galbraith, the MP for the area, only found out about the classes yesterday from his constituents.
He said: "Hamilton was parading his gun catalogue on Monday night. If a boy did well, he would show them his gun catalogue. I understand he also used to take them swimming." Hamilton allegedly also offered presents to boys in his class.
One father said: "He once told around 15 of them they were going swimming and provided them with his own trunks. but he never took them swimming, they went to the gym.
"One evening, he drove a few boys to Stirling but when one asked to go to the toilet, he wouldn't let him into the house.
"These kids are traumatised. Most of the kids are sleeping with their parents, they don't want to sleep alone. They're not getting counselling - they should be."
Detectives are next week to visit primary schools in the area to quiz children on the "football" groups held by Hamilton and his associate, Iain Boal, a PE student.
The boys, aged between seven and twelve, were stripped to the waist for the exercise sessions at the secondary school. Hamilton, and Mr Boal, circulated leaflets at St Matthew's, Woodhill and St Helen's primary schools in Bishopbriggs.
On the leaflet, Hamilton called himself "Boys Sports Club Committee (President)". Mr Boal, who had gone to ground yesterday, called himself Club Football Coach, although the Scottish Football Association said he was not registered as a coach.
Numerous allegations were made about Hamilton's behaviour but no sexual misconduct was ever proven, despite inquiries by police covering the Falkirk, Alva, Linlinthgow and Dunblane areas.
Central Regional Council tried to stop him leasing school halls for his clubs as early as 1984, after hearing about his ejection from the Scout Association. But its efforts were stymied when Hamilton appealed to the Ombudsman, the late Eric Gillett, who found in his favour, concluding that the allegations against him were "little more than gossip".
His MP, Michael Forsyth, now Scottish Secretary, sent a letter to Hamilton, saying: "Dear Mr Hamilton, thank you for sending me the commissioner's report. May I congratulate you on your success. I hope you will take steps to ensure this is given proper publicity."
He continued to run boys' clubs but his reputation always followed him. In 1989 he was run out of Linlithgow and in 1992 Dunfermline following complaints from parents. He took out a private lease on a school hall at Linlithgow Academy, but Lothian Regional Council refused to renew it.
"After he set up the boys' club, some parents expressed concerns about the general atmosphere he created.
"There was nothing specific about sexual misconduct, just the general feeling,"said a council spokesman
Local MP Tam Dalyell became involved after a parent in the constituency, Paula Morbey, became suspicious. She said yesterday: "My son joined a sports academy of his and they had to take their tops off and in normal primary schools they never used to do that.
"He would tell them a secret and then tell them not to tell their parents. And of course my ten year-old son James came home and told me straightaway. We never saw any leaders apart from him.
"It was meant to be a range of sports but it was always gym work and he was using the equipment so that he could handle the children."
After a battery of complaints from Mrs Morbey, the council took action.
Mr Dalyell, the MP for Linlithgow, said: "I think it's fair to say we ran him out of Linlithgow pretty quickly. Unfortunately we seem to have landed him on someone else."
Fife Regional Council banned his clubs at Queen Anne and Woodmill schools following complaints about a summer camp. Again, these related more to a lack of supervision than sexual misconduct - "we just felt there was something wrong", a spokeswoman said -and again Hamilton appealed to the Ombudsman. But that time he failed.
Council officials repeatedly tried to stop Hamilton taking out leases on school halls but he kept one step ahead. He would give school caretakers bottles of whisky in return for being tipped off when night-time vacancies arose.
One source told the Independent: "The officials responsible for letting school halls did everything they could under the legislation, but perhaps the legislation isn't strong enough. They feel terrible about what happened."
Sam Gilbraith, MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, still cannot believe that the man was with children from his constituency just 36 hours before the massacre. "I'm just flabbergasted that it was going on and it has taught me a lesson. You just have to be careful."Reuse content