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Twenty years on: Journalist recalls how Dunblane killer ‘haunted’ newspaper office

Thomas HamiltonA former regional journalist has recalled mass murderer Thomas Hamilton’s regular visits to his newspaper’s offices prior to him carrying out the Dunblane massacre.

Chris Deerin worked on the Stirling Observer, which “typical oddball” Hamilton, left, would frequent with regular complaints.

Hamilton shot dead 16 pupils and one teacher at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996, before turning the gun on himself.

As the nation prepares to mark 20 years since the massacre, Chris recalled his former meetings with Hamilton at the Observer offices in an article for news website CapX.

He wrote: “The thing, weirdly, that I remember best – can’t unremember – is the rustle. Thomas Hamilton was a regular visitor to the Stirling Observer offices and he always wore the same grimy anorak, which would rustle as he waddled towards you, his fat arms rubbing against his blimpish torso – shik shik shik.

“At the time, he seemed to be the typical oddball that haunts local newspaper offices everywhere.

“It was always the same list of complaints: he wanted to run his boys’ clubs but the council wouldn’t let him; people were spreading terrible lies about him; there was a conspiracy to ruin his life.

“It was my first job in journalism and that’s exactly what he seemed: odd. It was all he seemed.”

By the time of the shootings, Chris had moved on to worked for the Daily Mail and was despatched to his former patch to cover the tragedy.

He continued: “I didn’t leave the district for another six weeks. When I think back now, I can’t believe some of the things I did. I was a journalist on autopilot.

“I knew the area, knew the people. I found out some of the victims’ names. I knocked on the door of a mother who had lost a child only hours before: she opened it, weeping, and shook her head wordlessly as she closed it again.

“Then we were told that all the editors had agreed none of the families should be approached.

“I tracked down the photograph of Hamilton that was used on the cover of the next day’s paper – him having a cup of tea in a pal’s sunny back garden, his white shirt partially unbuttoned, a vest peeping over the top; he was seemingly in mid-sentence, a declaratory arm raised. He looked utterly unremarkable, except the headline was a single word: MONSTER.

“I doorstepped Hamilton’s mum every day for a week and chased after his father. I was there when the politicians came, setting aside their party differences amid the naked desolation.”

Chris followed the resulting Cullen Inquiry into the massacre, which led to tighter controls on handgun ownership being introduced by John Major’s Government.

During this time, he got to know some of the victims’ parent on first name terms.

Chris concluded: “It was only some time later, probably months later, that I became aware I hadn’t emerged psychologically unscathed.

“Here we are, 20 years on. I haven’t thought about Dunblane for a long time, and suddenly, like everyone whose life was touched even tangentially by the tragedy, I’m struggling to think of anything else.

“Those children would now be in their mid-20s, with the jobs, families and experiences, perhaps even children of their own, that the monster denied them.

“The country will unite in commemoration and grief this weekend and we will all remember in our own way. God bless them.”


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  • March 11, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    This is an interesting article and one which should strike a chord with any journalist who gets out and meets people face to face.

    Thankfully few of us will have experienced a story on this scale and horror but elements like ‘oddball characters’, door-stepping grieving parents and trying to make sense of (in it’s truest sense) tragedy while trying to do your job will be familiar to most.

    Chris recounts what thousands of us have experienced and what some of a new generation using Twitter, Facebook and police PROs for their ‘primary’ source, never will.

    At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I can remember tears falling as I wrote copy about a multiple fatal, sometimes with a whole family wiped out and you had been alone in a living room hearing weeping survivors pour their broken hearts out.

    Now it is called content, it’s what the media craves and voraciously consumes but it seems only a dwindling band of proper journalists actually knows what it is, where you get it and how much it actually costs.

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  • March 11, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I remember Dunblane well and this is a interesting article but I do need to put Confused right on one aspect. All of my current team have been involved in interviewing the bereaved. It requires even more skill nowadays because interviews are often done on video. In that sense they are not a dwindling band.

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  • March 17, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    One massacre, and Britain cracks down on gun ownership. Weekly atrocities in America, zero action permitted by the gun lobby. And folk wonder how it is a buffoon like Trump is a serious presidential contender…

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