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Dunblane Primary School (Shooting)

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth): It is with profound sadness that I have to report on the tragic event that took place at Dunblane, which is in my constituency, yesterday. Hon. Members will understand the deep shock and distress afflicting the people of Dunblane, and our first thoughts must be with the families of those who were killed and injured.Our deepest sympathies go out to them at this terrible time.

The House will appreciate that police inquiries into the matter are continuing; therefore, I shall confine my remarks to the facts surrounding the incident, so far as they have been established.

At approximately 9.15 am yesterday, an armed man, identified by the police as Thomas Hamilton, entered Dunblane primary school and opened fire on children and staff who were in the school gymnasium. Fifteen of the children who were shot and their teacher died within the school. One child died later in hospital. Three adults and 12 other children were wounded. The gunman shot himself and died within the school.

As soon as I was informed of this dreadful event, accompanied by the hon. Member for Hamilton(Mr. Robertson), I went to Dunblane, where we were joined by my hon. Friend the Scottish Education Minister, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). What we witnessed there encompassed both the worst and the best of which humanity is capable. In contrast to the stark evil of the crime, doctors, teachers, police, ambulance personnel and other caring professions, Church leaders and volunteers worked unsparingly to save life and console the bereaved.

In particular, I want to pay the highest possible tribute to Mr. Ron Taylor, headmaster of Dunblane primary school, for his heroic efforts to save the lives of his dying pupils in circumstances too harrowing to be recounted in detail. Hon. Members will wish to join me also in a tribute to Mrs. Gwen Mayor, the dedicated teacher who was gunned down in the midst of her charges. Mrs. Mayor was an exceptionally gifted teacher, who had given10 years' service to the school, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to her husband Rodney and their two daughters.

I would also like to extend the sympathy of the House to Aileen Harild, the PE teacher, and to the teaching assistants, Mary Blake and Gwen Tweddle, who were all injured. Our teachers carry the immeasurable responsibility of moulding the character of the next generation. In this tragic case, a teacher lost her life in the course of fulfilling that responsibility.

I would also like to pay tribute to the chief constable of central Scotland, William Wilson, and his officers, to the procurator fiscal at Stirling, and to the medical teams supervised by Dr. Jack Beattie, as well as the staff in the hospitals at Stirling, Falkirk and Yorkhill, who carried out their duties superbly in the most distressing circumstances. All the public services involved deserve the praise of the House, and our recognition of the trauma that will continue to live with them.

The Lord Advocate and I believe that this terrible tragedy should be thoroughly and fully investigated. We believe that it is desirable and necessary that an inquiry should be undertaken by a Senator of the College of

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Justice--a senior Scottish judge. Lord Cullen, who conducted the public inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster, has agreed to undertake that responsibility. The Lord Advocate plans to meet him and the Lord President of the Court of Session tomorrow to discuss the procedures that the inquiry should follow.

Her Majesty the Queen yesterday sent her condolences to all those affected by this unspeakable deed. The Queen and the Princess Royal have both expressed a wish to visit Dunblane as soon as circumstances make that appropriate, and I can tell the House that they will be going there on Monday.

Hon. Members will share my sense of the inadequacy of any attempt we make in this House to offer consolation to the families devastated by this vile crime. The cold-blooded slaughter of tiny children is beyond atrocity. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say to the stricken families of Dunblane: "Our deepest sympathy and our prayers are with you and for you. You have the support of countless people around the world in your grief."

Tomorrow night, the people of Dunblane will be holding a vigil for their dead, their injured and their bereaved. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that the prayers and thoughts of all hon. Members will be with them. The whole nation mourns.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, and for his consideration and kindness in inviting me to join him in Dunblane yesterday. I agree with every word that the right hon. Gentleman said. I warmly welcome the fact that Her Majesty the Queen will visit the town next Monday.

There will not be a single person in this country who would not have wakened this morning hoping beyond hope that yesterday was just a bad dream; so there will be nobody today who will not experience huge sadness and dismay on realising that it did all happen.

One does not need to have lived in the town of Dunblane or to have seen three children go through Dunblane primary school to share the grief, horror and sheer desolation that our town feels today--one just has to be a fellow human being. It was that worst of all possible nightmares that any parent can think of--and for it to happen to so many of the littlest and most innocent makes the tragedy one of unspeakable misery.

I have to say that Dunblane today is worse than yesterday in its mourning, and tomorrow will probably be worse still, as the enormity of the massacre comes home in the shape of real children gone, real families afflicted, and a whole community scarred and tortured.

I join the Secretary of State's tributes to headmaster Ron Taylor, whose composure and self-control--which we witnessed yesterday--in the face of the most traumatic events was an inspiration. To act with speed and calmness as tiny pupils die in one's arms cannot be described as ordinary professionalism--it was heroism. The staff of the school also deserve great praise and thanks. We deeply mourn Gwen Mayor, the truly dedicated teacher who died with her charges in the gymnasium.

The Secretary and I met, spoke to and thanked--and I do so again--members of the emergency services, police, ambulance staff and medical teams from a supremely dedicated health service, who acted with superlative dedication and skill, even when their own emotions were

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tested to the limit. We must be so grateful for the caring services of the local councils, Church leaders and members of the whole community, who poured in to help.

Naturally, there are questions to be asked--with the nation, let alone the local community, needing answers. The worst service that we can do to the infant victims is to rush to instant judgment. Therefore, I strongly welcome the decision to appoint a High Court judge of the calibre of Lord Cullen to investigate all the circumstances of yesterday.

Those of us who met and distrusted Thomas Hamilton--I argued with him in my own home--in truth could have had no inkling to guide us to his final act of wantonness. Of course, we expect a thorough examination of and any necessary action on the present gun laws, which enabled such a man to own such a lethal armoury. School security, too, will need looking at, but we should not pretend to ourselves that even a fortress would have kept an armed, crazed, suicidal killer at bay. That is not for today.

Today, the nation stands beside and with a community devastated by a unique and terrible act of evil. We here, and all of us who would root out the sickness that spawns such an awful act, stand together in mourning and sympathy with those whose loss today is beyond repair.

Mr. Forsyth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the inquiry to be headed by Lord Cullen. I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's comments about Thomas Hamilton. I, too, had some contact with him, as his constituency Member of Parliament, and I agree that there could have been no inkling that he would be capable of such a terrible act.

I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's point about not rushing to judgment, and of course he is right to highlight questions such as gun law and the security of schools, which will need to be considered in the context of the findings of the inquiry. I will ensure that the Lord Advocate does everything possible to ensure that the inquiry is conducted speedily, so that those matters can be quickly laid to rest.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries): The whole House shares the grief of the people of Dunblane at this horrible massacre. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Dumfries and Galloway regional council has considerable expertise in counselling and support, following the Lockerbie air disaster, and is very anxious to help in any way if it can?

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I am glad that he has set up an inquiry by Lord Cullen? I hope that it reports as soon as possible, so that action can be taken subsequently.

Mr. Forsyth: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for the offer of assistance. May I use this opportunity to thank all the local authorities which offered help and support, including Strathclyde, which provided tremendous support through the police, and the many authorities which have offered expert support with counselling, which has been taken up by the community? I will certainly try to ensure that my right hon. Friend's request is met.

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