Parents' six-hour ordeal waiting for news

The Dunblane tragedy: Inquiry told of delays while dead children were identified
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The Independent Online
The emotional ordeal suffered by the parents of children who died in the massacre at Dunblane was revealed yesterday when the inquiry was told that some parents only learned they had lost their son or daughter six hours after the shooting had taken place.

The confusion in an operation the police could probably never have envisaged, the difficulties the authorities faced in co-ordinating information on the dead and injured and the chaos at the school as worried parents demanded to know if the children were alive or dead, were highlighted in evidence given before Lord Cullen in Stirling.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Ogg, the senior officer at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March, was questioned by advocate Laura Dunlop, acting for the families of children who were injured and murdered by Thomas Hamilton. Det Ch Supt Ogg had given details of how from around 10am the police had tried to identify the children still alive and taken to hospitals, and those who were dead.

Initially, all parents were ushered into a private house near the school. Most had gathered at the school by 10.30am. As information trickled in, parents of class 1.13, which had been in the gymnasium, were taken to another house to wait. Most parents of injured children were told by 1.30pm. Others had to wait longer. Parents of pupils believed dead were then driven to the school to wait in the staff room.

Asked whether there were still parents waiting to be told if their son or daughter were dead at 3.30pm, Det Ch Supt Ogg said "I don't think so." Following his answer there were sighs of incredulity from parents and relatives sitting in the gallery. When told this was the case, he said he found it "difficult to believe".

The confusion was illustrated when Ms Dunlop said the husband and daughter of the murdered teacher, Gwen Mayor, were kept in separate rooms at the school. Rodney Mayor had been frantically trying to contact his daughter, Esther, on the telephone for an hour when she was only a few feet away.

Identifying the bodies in the gym, Det Ch Supt Ogg said, "was an unbelievable situation. Staff were breaking down. I saw some officers crying".

Supt Joseph Holden, the officer initially in charge of placing a cordon round the school, said he had been confronted by anxious parents who had heard on the radio at 10.30am that 12 children had been killed. Supt Holden said he had not been told this. He explained to the inquiry that as there had been conflicting reports in identifying who was dead or injured, he had decided that all information should be reconfirmed before parents were told.

Mr Holden, admitting there could have a margin of error in the timings of when parents were told, said "I can't think how it could have been better done".

The headteacher, Ronald Taylor, yesterday described how on the day of massacre the school's assembly had only just finished. Around 250 pupils and 10 staff began filing out of the assembly hall at 9.30am. To clear the hall "took three or four minutes". Police estimate Hamilton's first shot was fired only three minutes or so later.

Mr Taylor said he was in his office when he heard noise, which he believed to come from builders. He was on the telephone, when the assistant head, Agnes Awlson, entered his room in a crouched position. She told him a man with a gun was in the school and to get down. "I dialled 999," he said. Three minutes from hearing the first "noise" Mr Taylor went to the gym. "It was a scene of unimaginable carnage, our worst nightmare. The air was thick with blue smoke, the smell of cordite was strong."

The inquiry continues.