NEWLY-elected Stirling MP Michael Forsyth congratulated Thomas Hamilton on his return to run a boys' club in Dunblane - a prospect which plunged the household of another MP, Labour's George Robertson, into despair.

Seven years were to pass before Mr Forsyth became as anxious and concerned as Mr Robertson about Hamilton's activities.

But Mr Robertson, who first raised his suspicions with Mr Forsyth in 1983, told the Cullen Inquiry yesterday not to blame the Tory MP for his initial reaction because no firm evidence of wrongdoing had been provided at the time.

Both MPs proferred remarkably different perspectives of Hamilton on first meeting him in 1983.

Even after numerous contacts which increasingly became more bizarre, both said they never imagined he would become a mass murderer capable of slaughtering 16 children and their teacher.

Mr Robertson, Shadow Scottish Secretary, spoke of an immediate ``gut feeling'' on first sight of Hamilton that he looked odd, weird and sinister and should not care for children.

Mr Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, recalled someone who was very plausible and seemed to have a real grievance - so much so that he took it up with the authorities.

Mr Robertson, a Lanarkshire MP who has lived in Dunblane for more than 20 years, and whose children were educated at Dunblane Primary, told how his oldest son Malcolm, then aged 10, had joined Hamilton's boys' club, Dunblane Rovers, in 1983.

After Malcolm failed to attend one Thursday night, he received a letter from Hamilton which reprimanded him and seeking an explanation for his absence.

The letter angered Mr Robertson's wife, Sandra, who in a telephone call to a calm, non- confrontational Hamilton questioned his right to contact personally Malcolm instead of his parents.

It was the stimulus for Mr Robertson to look into the club. What he saw through the glass doors of the gym struck him ``very clearly as to the bizarre nature of what was going on''.

Large rows of boys, stripped to the waist, were being bossed about by two or three men, swaggering around. The scene reminded him of the Hitler Youth.

Mr Robertson, accompanied by another parent, immediately felt something was wrong.

Both fathers were of the same opinion: the adults ``looked odd, weird and in many ways sinister in the way they conducted themselves'' and ``something odd was going on in Dunblane High School gym''.

Mr Robertson's subsequent inquiries suggested Hamilton had no credentials to run ``an army of small boys'' and he felt uneasy that he had no qualifications or checkable background other than running a shop.

However, the MP then heard Hamilton's school let was cancelled after action taken by local Tory councillor Frena Anderson.

He believed a line had been drawn under Hamilton, but he appealed to the Ombudsman, backed by 70 parents signing a petition and 30 letters of support.

Mr Robertson then met newly-elected Mr Forsyth to voice his concerns and `gut feeling'' that Hamilton should not run boys' clubs.

He stressed Mr Forsyth asked questions about tangible evidence but it was difficult to put a finger on thoughts that Hamilton was untrustworthy.

Mr Robertson recognised how weak he sounded.

The MP, who pointed out Mr Forsyth's initial position was taken on the basis of unsubstantiated rumour, said: ``I am not surprised at his reaction, and I don't blame him. . . I can understand how plausible Hamilton must have seemed to him.''

Mr Robertson said of the Ombudsman's findings in Hamilton's favour: ``In our house, we were absolutely in despair that the let had been returned and that in many ways the Ombudsman had given him a boost.''

Hamilton began recruiting again and leaflets in 1994 and 1995 caused particular disgust to Mr Robertson, who was determined to stop his activities in the area.

Mr Robertson approached a newspaper in the hope Hamilton could be flushed out. The journalist agreed Hamilton was unstable, but the article never appeared because of legal difficulties.

Mr Robertson continued to pass on information to Mr Forsyth who, by now, was also uneasy about Hamilton.

On lessons to be learned, he urged Lord Cullen to create a system where credentials of adults supervising young people are vetted and to introduce regulations on a ratio of adults to children at clubs.

He also warned a myth is growing that Hamilton acted on his own. Others had helped him. A lot of these people had ``disappeared like snow on a dyke''.

He added: `Clearly he had a mesmerising influence on the youngsters, and it may be that he had the same effect on others around him as well.''

He said Hamilton gained respectability by using school premises, and something should be done about such lets.

Mr Forsyth was elected in April 1983 and met Hamilton soon after.

Hamilton said his let was being cancelled without reason by the local authority. Mr Forsyth had taken the complaint up with the council, and he recalled later congratulating Hamilton in a letter after the Ombudsman upheld his appeal.

He had ``noted'' Mr Robertson's concerns about Hamilton's clubs being ``militar- istic''and pointed out that no evidence of wrongdoing was provided.

However, he was also in regular correspondence with Hamilton from 1988 over complaints about police investigations into one of his summer camps.

In 1991, Mr Forsyth refused to meet Hamilton because there was no purpose in continuing to involve him in unreasonable representations that police had acted unfairly.

In 1993, he was furious to discover that Hamilton was using his name as a contact on his publicity circulars.

Mr Forsyth confirmed he began to pass on information received from Mr Robertson and parents about Hamilton's activities to police and other agencies.

However, a letter received on February 11, 1996, disclosed a change in Hamilton's character.

It indicated - for the first time - that he was no longer going to pursue matters or continue correspondence.

But Mr Forsyth told the inquiry: ``There was nothing about him that would have led me to conclude in any way he would have been capable of doing what he did.''

Outside the Albert Halls, Mr Forsyth pledged the Government would take action on issues raised by the inquiry.

q The deputy Ombudsman for Scotland, Miss Janice Renton, told the inquiry that Hamilton had complained to the Ombudsman five times. Only one, his complaint about Central region cancelling his lets in 1984, was upheld.

q Mr David Cobb, 38, former deputy head of administration reponsible for legal services at Central Regional Council, told the inquiry that council officials failed to take action to ban Hamilton from schools in the 1990s because, perhaps wrongly, they feared a repeat of the killer's succesful complaint to the Ombudsman.