Dunblane massacre 20 years on: Time does not heal the horrors

Dunblane – even 20 years on, the name alone stirs thoughts of unimaginable horror.

Dunblane massacre 20 years on: Time does not heal the horrors

On March 13, 1996 the Stirlingshire town witnessed one of the worst shootings in the UK's history.

Gunman Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 children and one teacher after opening fire at Dunblane Primary School.

Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 children and their teacher

It was a massacre that chilled the hearts of people across the UK.

Not least those in the Black Country.

As the tragedy unfolded it became apparent that one of the defenceless pupils killed by crazed Hamilton had grown up in this region – and only just left to live in Dunblane.

Charlotte Dunn, aged five, moved to Scotland with her family from their home in Apperley Way, Cradley, just nine months before the fatal shooting.

Her father, Tipton-born Martyn Dunn was due to return to the Kidderminster headquarters of water treatment firm Purac, after an 18-month stint at the Stirling office.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the massacre, Mr Dunn – who still lives in the Scottish town – has spoken exclusively to the Express & Star.

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Mr Dunn said the family had actually moved away from Dunblane just two weeks after the incident, as they had already planned to move.

Former Cradley schoolgirl Charlotte Dunn who was killed

However, Mr Dunn and his wife wanted to return to the Scottish town for the safety net provided by the other families affected by the tragedy.

"We needed to be back here for the support from the other families," he said,

"We had made friends with the other families who had lost children and needed their support.

"All of them were effectively in Dunblane at that time.

"But Dunblane had done nothing wrong, it's a nice area – it's just the efforts of one stupid man."

After moving to Scotland to work about 18 months before the massacre, Mr Dunn continued to travel home to spend weekends with his family in Cradley.

His wife Barbara, Charlotte and her brother Alex, then three, joined him in Scotland in June 1995 to set up a new home.

But they remained regular visitors to the Black Country, heading south to drop in on relatives in Cradley and Tipton.

They appeared to be happily settling into Scottish life.

Until Hamilton shattered that perfect existence on the morning of March 13.

Running into chaos

Mr Dunn said he was at work at the time when he was informed about 'an incident in Dunblane'.

He rang the school and somehow got through, before 'we headed back to Dunblane and ran into all the chaos'.

Mr Dunn, 55, described a painstaking wait before he and 58-year-old Barbara were the last parents informed about their child.

"We were left there in the room and then two policemen and a lady came in, sat us down and told us there had been 'an incident here today, your daughter has unfortunately died'.

"Our life fell apart."

The first step in the grieving process was seeing Charlotte at the hospital, Mr Dunn said.

"We went to identify her. But even though she had been shot three times you couldn't see them at that point. She was still a beautiful little girl but would just be asleep for a long time. It really hit us at that time and it's been a long process."

Bullet hols in the windows of Dunblane Primary School

Although his family and others have felt the excruciating pain of having a child snatched away from them, Mr Dunn said his outlook on life is that 'there are people a lot worse off than us'.

"It's terrible, we lost a daughter and we will never fully recover from that – but there are people a lot worse off than us."

The healing process continues and Mr Dunn said seeing Alex, now 22, grow up has helped himself and Barbara – as well as the backing from the other bereaved families.

Before the tragedy - Charlotte with her parents and brother

It later emerged that Charlotte, a former schoolgirl at Cradley C of E Primary, had penned a letter to her former classmates just weeks before her life was cruelly snuffed out.

This said how Charlotte loved her new teacher Gwen Mayor, who also died, almost as much as she loved her reception teacher at Cradley Marcia Harris – who is now the school's head.

An emotional Mrs Harris this week spoke of Charlotte as a bubbly, bright girl who was full of promise. She said: "We've got a lot of memories of her from the year she was with us.

"I had the privilege of being her first teacher and just remember her being a shining little star – that's absolutely what she was.

"Charlotte was shy, beautiful, had lots of friends and was a clever little girl.

"At the time she loved The Lion King.

"I remember Martyn used to be working in Scotland and used to travel back.

"One Friday afternoon she brought her dad to meet me because he was home early and I can remember how excited she was.

"What happened had a huge impact on the community here."

Charlotte Dunn's grave

The school still sends flowers annually to mark Charlotte's birthday and the anniversary of the massacre. Prayers are held at the school every year on March 13 to give thanks for Charlotte's life.

Mrs Harris said she has become close friends with Mr and Mrs Dunn and chose to name her own daughter Emily Charlotte to pay tribute to her former pupil's memory.

A playhouse was also built at the school shortly after the tragedy to remember Charlotte.

Many people recognised Charlotte in the picture of the tragic class shown on nationwide news bulletins following the shooting.

Total shock

The heartbreaking reaction back home in the Black Country was reported by the Express & Star at the time.

Overwhelming shock for the family's loss was the emotion that pervaded the comments of friends and family.

Former neighbour Stephen Jones said: "I saw news of the shootings on television and put two and two together – although all along we were hoping Charlotte was not involved. We are just totally shocked. It's unbelievable.

"We lived by Martyn and Barbara for years until they moved to Scotland.

"They doted on the kids.

"Charlotte was a happy, pretty little girl and she was around here a lot to play with our son Daniel.

"She used to play in the paddling pool in our garden in the summer. She was a great kid."

How the Express & Star reported the atrocity in 1996

Back in 1996 we reported how the news of Charlotte's death was broken to staff and pupils at Cradley C of E in an assembly.

"We are all in deep shock and our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Dunblane,'' said the school's then headteacher Philip Raybould.

The people of Dunblane have been remembering the victims ahead of the 20th anniversary tomorrow.

Reflection

While there are no official plans to mark the anniversary, survivors and relatives have been reflecting on the impact of the shooting on their lives and on the country as a whole.

Floral tributes left outside the school

Dr Mick North, whose five-year-old daughter Sophie was killed, said the positive legacy should not be forgotten – that people are safer from gun crime than they were 20 years ago.

He said: "In many respects, the day of the forthcoming anniversary won't be especially different – any day from the last 20 years was one for memories.

"The importance of the 20th anniversary is as an occasion when others can recall and reflect on a horrific event, and also a time when those too young to remember might learn about what happened and consider its significance."

The retired academic feels the murder of 17 innocent victims made many people feel more vulnerable than before.

He said: "Memories of Dunblane have been sustained because of the country's response.

"Disgust that a man could arm himself and kill so many victims with a legally-owned weapon, combined with a desire to stop it happening again, translated into public campaigns and political action.

"Handguns were banned – surely a legacy worth reflecting upon two decades later?"

Former Scout leader Hamilton was 43 when he carried out the planned execution of innocents, first cutting the school's telephone wires before making his way to the gym hall armed with four legally-held handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Inside the gym, 28 primary year one pupils were preparing for PE class as he entered and began shooting, killing 16 children and their teacher Gwen Mayor and injuring 15 others.

He then turned the gun on himself.

PE teacher Eileen Harrild and assistant Mary Blake were among those who survived.

It emerged that Hamilton felt persecuted after complaints to police about his behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs he ran.

Among those who knew Hamilton were Judy Murray and her sons Jamie and Andy – who were at the school at the time of the shooting.

The gymnasium was demolished soon after and replaced by a memorial garden.

A memorial was also established at Dunblane Cemetery, where many of those killed are buried.

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