chapter  5
24 Pages

‘Licensed to kill’: the Dunblane shootings and their aftermath

My research with Dunblane families overlapped the Hillsborough Project. Most people remember precisely where they were when they heard the news that there had been fatal shootings at a primary school in Scotland. I received a telephone call from a journalist friend on his way by car to Dunblane from Edinburgh. He told me that children and teachers had been shot by a gunman who had walked into the school and opened fire. Some had died. He wanted information on what might have happened and what leads might be followed. I couldn’t help him other than to tell him to treat families with respect and not to rush to judgement. As the media covered the tragedy it was apparent that most journalists took the route of extreme pathology. The perpetrator was a ‘loner’ who had an ‘unhealthy interest’ in young boys. Within hours the explanation for the deaths of 16 young children and their teacher was summarised in one word: ‘pervert’. A year later I interviewed bereaved families. The research interviews

throughout this chapter were conducted in Dunblane in June 1997. By this time the Cullen Inquiry into the shootings had reported, but what emerged from the interviews was an issue touched on only briefly by the official inquiry. It concerned the treatment of the bereaved by the Central Scotland Police throughout the day of the shootings. As a consequence of this research two parents, Isabel McBeath and Mick North, became good friends and key contributors to an ESRC research seminar series on the aftermath of deaths in controversial circumstances. They were joined by the bereaved and survivors of Hillsborough and other disasters. The series, over two years, contributed significantly to developments in the care and treatment of the bereaved in the aftermath of tragedies and their participation in inquiries and inquests. Mick North wrote Dunblane: Never Forget, published in 2000.