On 13 March 1996, in an unprovoked outbreak of rage lasting three minutes, Thomas Hamilton killed or injured all but one of a class of 29 five and six-year-olds, along with their teacher at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. He then shot and killed himself, ending the worst mass murder Britain had ever seen.

Britain's worst mass murder

On the morning of 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, 43, left his house in Kent Road, Stirling, around five miles away from Dunblane, a sleepy rural town in central Scotland. He arrived at Dunblane Primary School at around 9:30 am, not long after school had begun for the day. He was armed with four handguns, more than 700 rounds of ammunition and a pair of pliers. The malcontent man had only one thing one his mind and that was murder.

Upon his arrival at the school, Hamilton first used his pliers to cut the telephone wires on a nearby pole. He then took out his weapons and began firing in the playground, before forcing his way past two staff members into the school building, entering via a side door. He walked down a passage, past the dining room, and burst into the gymnasium, where a class of five- and six-year-olds were having a gym lesson with teacher, Mrs Gwen Mayor, 45.

Hamilton first shot and seriously wounded the other two teachers present, Mrs Mary Blake and Mrs Eileen Harrild, before turning to the frightened children. He opened fire on them as they frantically tried to scramble under chairs and tables and into cupboards. All three teachers tried desperately to use their own bodies to shield as many children as possible. Gwen Mayor died trying. The hall resounded with screams and soon held many small bodies in pools of blood.

Hamilton then briefly stepped outside the gymnasium, into a hallway of classrooms, and opened fire. More people were struck down before Hamilton returned to the gym and started shooting once more. The crazed man then drew out a .357 revolver, put the weapon into his mouth and fired once, killing himself instantly.

Hamilton’s brief but horrific frenzy resulted in the murder of 17 people; teacher, Gwen Mayor and 16 young children. Within minutes, ambulance crews and police arrived at the school. Doctors and paramedics treated many people at the scene, whilst others were rushed to Stirling Royal Infirmary for immediate treatment. Twelve children from the class were hospitalised, in Stirling, Falkirk and Glasgow, with three on the critical list. These children all survived but will carry the scars and the memory of their nightmare experience for the rest of their lives.