How the file on an

``unsavoury and

unstable character'' was returned marked No Action

A CLEAR and unequivocal call for Thomas Hamilton's firearms certificate to be withdrawn was made by a detective sergeant to his superiors almost five years before the Dunblane massacre.

His impassioned, written plea included warnings that Hamilton was an unsavoury and unstable character, was scheming, devious and deceitful - and had an extremely unhealthy interest in boys.

But the Central Scotland Police depute chief constable responsible for signing the certificates and renewals dismissed the plea.

Asked by counsel for the bereaved Dunblane families if Detective Sergeant Paul Hughes was ultimately, and tragically, correct in asserting Hamilton should not have had a firearms certificate, Detective Superintendent Joseph Holden replied: ``I don't think that anyone could speak against that now.''

On March 13 this year, Hamilton - whose certificate was renewed in 1992 - slaughtered 16 children aged five and six and their teacher, Mrs Gwen Mayor, 45, in the gym hall of Dunblane Primary.

On November 11, 1991, Mr Hughes asked that serious consideration be given to withdrawing Hamilton's certificate because he was ``a scheming, devious and deceitful individual who is not to be trusted.''

Mr Hughes said he had felt compelled to make the report because he had recently discovered Hamilton owned a 9mm Browning pistol and a .357 Smith and Wesson revolver, and also had permission to acquire a .22 rifle and a 7.62 rifle.

Hamilton, he said, had an unstable personality and was no stranger to controversy.

He believed an extremely unhealthy interest in young boys appeared to have been controlled to date, but warned Hamilton's ploy - whenever challenged - was to engage in smokescreen tactics to divert attention from the focal issue.

The report went to Mr Holden, who was making inquiries into Hamilton at the time and was based at CID headquarters in Stirling, in charge of uniformed officers in the area.

It was passed on to his superior, Detective Superintendent John Miller, head of all specialist units including the child protection unit at Bannockburn where Mr Hughes was based.

By the time it reached Mr Douglas McMurdo, depute chief constable who is now an assistant Chief Inspector of Constabulary, two notes had been added.

One, from Mr Miller, ruled out revoking Hamilton's certificate on two grounds - that he had no criminal convictions, and it seemed likely the fiscal at Stirling was going to reject charges against Hamilton in connection with running a summer camp.

The other, from Mr Holden, stated: ``Sir, it is a difficult situation. I would agree with Mr Hughes' appraisal of Hamilton. Do we have any latitude for progress in respect of revocation of his certificate?'' On November 18, the depute chief constable returned the report to Mr Holden.

It was stamped ``No Action.''

Mr Hughes's call to revoke the certificate was made exactly one week before the fiscal declined to bring charges against Hamilton over his treatment of children at the camp.

Mr Holden told the Cullen inquiry that the situation leading up to Mr Hughes's memorandum was so complicated that it had warranted a visit to the fiscal to explain the background.

The fiscal had ruled Mr Holden could only interview Hamilton on a voluntary basis.

Mr Holden had not agreed with that decision, given that he shared Mr Hughes' concerns about his earlier findings at the camp.

However, he had doubts if there were statutory grounds on which Hamilton's certificate could be withdrawn.

The same problems arose again at another Hamilton summer camp, this time at Dunblane High School in 1993.

This time, another officer, Detective Superintendent Allan Moffat, had been told of similar parental concerns about children being scantily clad as well as photographed by Hamilton.

Mr Moffat was told to investigate, and subsequently the depute chief constable had asked Mr Holden to investigate Hamilton's boys' club with reference to the composition of its committee.

He had interviewed Hamilton at his home in October 1993, but Hamilton had refused to provide details of his photography session or the committee.

Mr Holden said that three weeks later, Hamilton told him he did not see why he should provide one name of a committee member.

He told the inquiry he believed a committee did not exist, and that Hamilton was obsessive about his club. A report had been sent to Mr McMurdo.

Under cross-examination, he agreed with Mr Hughes's assessment that Hamilton was an unsavoury character.

He was pressed by the bereaved families' counsel over whether he agreed it was a matter of common sense that Hamilton should not have been allowed to retain his firearms certificate.

At first, he replied he could not give a yes or a no to that question.

In 1991, he was dependent only on Mr Hughes's report, while in 1993 had only personally investigated the charge that Hamilton was unstable.

He said he had supported Mr Hughes in his submission to Mr McMurdo on grounds that it was quite right to question if Hamilton was a fit and proper person.

Mr Holden agreed with Mr Colin Campbell, QC for the families, that if Mr Hughes's assessment of Hamilton was accurate, then he should not have had a firearms certificate.

He accepted Mr Hughes's recommendation that Hamilton's licence should be withdrawn was ``clear and unequivocal''.

He did not think anyone could now doubt that Hamilton should not have had a certificate.