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Snowdrop withers but battle to curb guns lives on

The Snowdrop Campaign, which started life on an antiquated decorator's trestle table in the numb days that followed the Dunblane massacre, and acted as a potent voice for the anti-gun lobby led by the victims' parents, was finally wound up as the nation went to the polls yesterday.

Launched within weeks of the day - 13 March, 1996 - when Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 primary school children and their teacher, the campaign took its name from the only spring flower in bloom when the tragedy took place. Its message captured the public mood of disquiet at existing firearms legislation. Later, its co-ordinator, Ann Pearston, described it as one of the most successful single-issue campaigns ever seen in the UK.

The founders, who organised a petition of more than 750,000 signatures, now plan to give their support to the London-based pressure group, the Gun Control Network, which was set up after the Hungerford massacre in 1987.

Mrs Pearston said recently: "We feel we have done all we can and now it's time to call it a day. A lot of people picked up a pen and signed our petition, now we'd like them to pick up a pen and join the Gun Control Network to continue the fight."

Snowdrop was started from behind an old decorator's table in Stirling, when Mrs Pearston, Jacqueline Walsh and Rosemary Hunter invited people to sign a petition calling for a ban on the private ownership of handguns.

Mrs Pearston, who did not suffer any personal tragedy at Dunblane, got involved because she had lived for 18 months in the city.

Another person involved in the campaign was Dr Mick North. The university lecturer lost his five-year-old daughter Sophie, his only child, in the tragedy. His wife, Barbara, had died of cancer when Sophie was just three.

Dr North, 49, was the first bereaved parent to speak out just nine days after his daughter's murder.

Lord Cullen's public inquiry was the first major hurdle facing the families at the end of May 1996. They made their first public call for a total handgun ban at the end of the inquiry.

It coincided with the Snowdrop Petition, with more than 700,000 signatures, being handed in.

The findings of the Cullen Inquiry last October failed to recommend a total ban on handguns but the Government went further when they banned all private handguns, but only above .22 calibre. After a complete ban was rejected by the Commons, Tony Blair promised that a Labour government would legislate for a total ban on handguns, with a free vote for MPs.

One of the last acts of the Snowdrop campaign was to screen an advert at cinemas across Britain. The 40-second film, which showed a human-shaped target being blown apart by pistol shots, involved a voice-over by 007 legend Sean Connery.

The Snowdrop campaign also launched an anti- handgun poster last month featuring a blackboard with "ban all handguns" written in chalk in a child's handwriting.

The decision to wind up the Snowdrop campaign follows divisions within the campaign over how long it should continue as a pressure group.