Killing spree followed established pattern

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Crime Correspondent

The shooting dead of 16 children and a teacher is Britain's biggest mass murder involving a gunman.

It eclipses the Hungerford massacre, in which Michael Ryan gunned down 16 people in 1987, and is the latest incident in an alarming trend of attacks involving schools.

Yesterday's deaths make Thomas Hamilton Britain's third biggest mass murderer, not only killing more people than Ryan but also more than Dennis Nilsen, who killed 16 people and hid their bodies at his home in North London, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, who took 13 lives, and Fred West who killed at least 12.

The country's biggest mass killer remains John Thompson, who murdered killed 37 people after he set light to The Spanish Club, in London, in revenge for being overcharged for a rum and coke. He was jailed for life in 1981.

Mary Ann Cotton poisoned 20 people with arsenic, including three husbands, children, step-children, friends and relatives with arsenic. She was hanged in 1873.

Dunblane follows rising concern over violence in and around schools. In December headteacher Philip Lawrence was stabbed to death outside his school in West London as he tried to help one of his pupils who was being attacked. In 1994 a man armed with a replica gun and a knife burst into a classroom at Hall Garth School, Middlesbrough, Cleveland, and stabbed to death a 12-year-old girl and wounded two others. Stephen Wilkinson, 31, was jailed for life in December for manslaughter.

Hamilton's spree follows a well-established pattern involving lone gunmen. Similar apparently random killings have occurred throughout the world over the past decade. In New Zealand in 1990 11 people were shot dead in Aramoana, which has a population of just 90.

In September last year 16 people were killed in the southern French town of Cuers when a French teenager ran amok with a rifle. Eric Borel, 16, who committed suicide after the spree, had argued with his parents over where he should live.

In June of the same year a 24-year-old army shooting instructor killed seven people, including five women, in the central Swedish town of Falun.

In December 1993 a gunman walked through the aisle of a packed rush-hour commuter train in Garden City, just outside New York City, and randomly shot at passengers, killing four people and wounding at least 17 others.

Five months earlier a man carrying two semi-automatic weapons, a handgun and a bag with hundreds of bullets walked into a law firm in San Francisco and opened fire, killing nine people. He then shot himself.

A man armed with an automatic weapon slammed his truck into a Texas cafeteria 1991 in the town of Killeen and opened fire on the lunch-time crowd, killing 23 people. The gunman then went into a toilet and killed himself.