Robertson considers action over web allegation
GEORGE Robertson, the NATO secretary general, is considering legal action against the owners of the Sunday Herald, over internet allegations about his connection to Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer.
The move by Lord Robertson, which could force Scottish Media Group to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation, follows claims posted on the newspaper’s discussion page by a member of the public.
Last night, lawyers warned that the scale of the payout could even force the Sunday Herald out of business, given worldwide awareness of the Dunblane massacre.
There was also concern that the case could have serious implications for anyone who operates a website encouraging views from members of the public.
Andrew Jaspan, the editor of the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald, admitted the website was not "policed", although he insisted the offending material had been removed half an hour after the paper was contacted by Lord Robertson’s representatives.
However, last night, a legal source said the information posted on the Sunday Herald forum had been there for four weeks and could have badly damaged Lord Robertson’s reputation.
He said: "We are talking about a well-known public figure on the international stage being linked through these allegations to an atrocity which is known throughout the world.
"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation and even an amount which could close the newspaper.
"Authors already have a responsibility not to publish defamatory statements. If they do, and they do put them on the web, then there is no reason why they shouldn’t be liable worldwide."
Another Scottish legal expert said online defamation typified by the case involving Lord Robertson was an area of increasing concern for businesses.
Traditionally, defamation has been considered a national matter, with little scope for conflict between laws of different countries, but the internet has muddied the waters by emphasising the cross-border access to websites which is possible for users.
Gillian Davies, a solicitor with Edinburgh-based Shepherd & Wedderburn, who specialise in intellectual property and information technology law, said: "Documents published and uploaded in one country can be viewed and downloaded all over the world, exposing newspapers and other publishers to the libel laws of potentially any nation which provides internet access to its citizens.
"The lack of a uniform approach at an international level to such issues prevents any kind of legal certainty."
Internet speculation about Lord Robertson grew following the revelation that 106 documents were closed to the public after the inquiry into the shootings at Dunblane Primary School in 1996.
Lord Robertson told Lord Cullens public inquiry he became increasingly concerned about Hamiltons militaristic camps after his own son attended Dunblane Rovers, run by Hamilton in 1983. After speaking of his fears to Michael Forsyth, then a newly elected MP for Stirling, Lord Robertson kept him informed of publicity relating to Hamilton’s clubs.
Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday claimed the letters between the two politicians drew a detailed picture of Hamiltons perverted behaviour towards young boys in his care as well as his firearms obsession.
The paper states that letters from Mr Forsyth "campaigned on behalf" of Hamilton from 1983 onwards, but that he also passed to police parental concerns about Hamilton’s personality. After receiving letters from Hamilton complaining about a police investigation into his 1988 summer camp, Mr Forsyth raised the issue with Central Scotland Police.
A year later, Hamilton met the forces deputy chief constable and, the Mail says, shortly afterwards the killer wrote to Mr Forsyth "thanking him for his assistance".
Dunblane killer report leaves questions unanswered
18th March 2003
A police report into Dunblane killer Thomas Hamilton has failed to cast any light on why authorities did not prevent his gun licence being renewed.
The 230-page dossier had been widely tipped to give information on Hamilton's application for a handgun licence, and outline his alleged links to the Masonic movement.
Instead it detailed four investigations that were conducted against Hamilton between 1988 and 1993 over complaints about alleged abuse and mistreatment of boys at youth camps he ran.
Unemployed Hamilton killed 16 primary school children and their teacher in Dunblane in March 1996 before taking his own life.
One document describes an investigation into a complaint made by parents whose child attended a youth club at Stirling High School. One parent, whose name was blanked out in the report, made the complaint in July 1993.
The parent claimed their child had been set to attend football coaching run by Hamilton, but it was subsequently discovered the boy had been made to wear a tight gym costume and carry out gymnastics while photographs were taken of him.
The police report raised concerns Hamilton "induces certain children to dress in very tight, ill-fitting tunics which he provides for them outwith the knowledge of parents" and took photographs of them in "questionable circumstances".
It also stated that Glasgow-born Hamilton had been reported to the procurator fiscal on two occasions over his behaviour to children, but it is not clear what happened to the cases.
Details of the investigations into Hamilton, who had run various youth clubs for boys throughout central Scotland, and subsequent police action, were considered by a 1996 public inquiry led by Lord Cullen.
Dunblane secret documents contain letters by Tory and Labour ministers
02 March 2003
Investigation: By Neil Mackay, Home Affairs Editor
LETTERS between Labour and Tory ministers and correspondence relating to Thomas Hamilton's alleged involvement with Freemasonry are part of a batch of more than 100 documents about the Dunblane mass murder which have been sealed from public sight for 100 years.
The documents include a letter connected to Hamilton, which was sent by George Robertson, currently head of Nato, to Michael Forsyth, who was then Secretary of State for Scotland.
Until now it was thought that a 100-year public secrecy order had only been placed on one police report into Hamilton which allegedly named high-profile politicians and legal figures. However, a Sunday Herald investigation has uncovered that 106 documents, which were submitted to the Dunblane inquiry in 1996, were also placed under the 100-year rule.
The Scottish Executive has claimed the 100-year secrecy order was placed on the Central Police report, which was drafted in 1991 five years before the murders, to protect the identities of children named in the report. Hamilton had allegedly abused a number of children prior to his 1996 gun attack on Dunblane primary school in which 16 primary one children and a teacher died before Hamilton turned his gun on himself.
However, only a handful of the documents, which the Sunday Herald has discovered to be also subject to the 100-year rule, relate to children or name alleged abuse victims.
The most intriguing document is listed as: 'Copy of letter from Thomas Hamilton to Dunblane parents regarding boys' club, and flyer advertising Dunblane Boys' Sports Club. Both sent to Rt Hon Michael Forsyth, MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, by George Robertson MP.' Also closed under the 100-year rule is a 'submission to Lord James Douglas Hamilton, MP, Minister of State at the Scottish Office, concerning government evidence to the Inquiry'.
Another document relates to correspondence between the clerk of the Dunblane inquiry, which was presided over by Lord Cullen, and a member of the public regarding 'possible affiliations of Thomas Hamilton with Freemasonry ... and copy letters from Thomas Hamilton'.
SNP deputy justice minister, Michael Matheson, said: 'The explanation to date about the 100 -year rule was that it was put in place to protect the interests of children named in the Central Police report. How can that explanation stand when children aren't named? The 100-year rule needs to be re-examined with respect to all documents.'
Matheson has written to the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, asking why the 100-year rule applies and how it can be revoked. He has so far had no response. He also asked First Minister Jack McConnell to explain the reasons for the 100-year order but received 'no substantial answer'. Matheson is to write to Colin Boyd a second time, in the light of the discovery that more than 100 other documents are also sealed, asking him to account for the decision.
A spokeswoman for the Crown Office said: 'In consultation with the Crown Office and the Scottish Office, Lord Cullen agreed that in line with the age of some of the individuals involved and named in the inquiry, the closure period would be 100 years. The Lord Advocate is considering issuing a redacted copy of the productions, which would blank out identifying details of children and their families. A decision on this has yet to be made.'
Other sealed key reports on Dunblane include:
A 'comparative analysis of Thomas Hamilton' by Central Scotland Police
Information about Hamilton's 'use and possession of firearms'
Pathology reports, Hamilton's autopsy report, and analysis by Glasgow University's forensic science lab on blood, urine and liver samples from Hamilton's body
Details on firearms licensing policies
A review by Alfred Vannet, regional procurator fiscal of Grampian, Highland and Islands, of 'reports and information in respect of Thomas Hamilton submitted to the procurator fiscals of Dumbarton and Stirling by Strathclyde Police and Central Police'
A psychological report on Hamilton
Guidance from the British Medical Association on granting firearms licences
'Transcript of and correspondence relating to answering-machine tape which accidentally recorded conversation between police officers at the scene of the Dunblane incident'
Correspondence and witness statements 'relating to allegations of sexual abuse made against Hamilton'
Call to lift veil of secrecy over Dunblane
Friday February 14, 2003
Campaigners yesterday called for a review of the 100-year secrecy rule imposed on some documents seen by the inquiry into the Dunblane killings which were never made public.
The move comes after the Scottish cabinet this week instructed Scotland's most senior law officer to look again at the 100-year ban placed on a police report on Thomas Hamilton, who murdered 16 primary schoolchildren and their teacher.
There have been allegations that the lengthy closure order was placed on the report after it linked Hamilton to figures in the Scottish establishment, including two senior politicians and a lawyer.
But the crown office says the decision to impose the ban - by Lord Cullen, who chaired the inquiry - was made to protect the identity of children who may have been abused by Hamilton, and their families.
Following Wednesday's Scottish cabinet meeting, it was announced that the lord advocate, Colin Boyd QC, would look at the feasibility of publishing the report with the children's names deleted.
But Michael Matheson, the Scottish National party's shadow deputy justice minister, questioned whether the lord advocate's review would go far enough.
He said: "There are more documents covered by the 100-year rule than this police report. Some of them have nothing whatsoever to do with children. We need to look at why such a lengthy ban has been imposed on them.
"I have been contacted by a number of families affected by the tragedy who are anxious to ensure this information becomes public. And so far we have no guarantee that it will. We only have a review."
The report banned under the 100-year rule was com piled by Paul Hughes, then a detective sergeant with Central Scotland police, and concerns Thomas Hamilton's activities at a summer camp in Loch Lomond in 1991, five years before the shootings.
Selected extracts published during the Cullen inquiry revealed it recommended that Hamilton should be prosecuted for his activities at the summer camp and that he should have his gun licence revoked.
The report, however, was ignored. Although Lord Cullen referred to it in his inquiry, it does not feature in the index or appendices to his final report.
Consent from Lord Cullen is not needed to overturn his ruling. "The decision is a matter for the lord advocate," said a crown office spokesman.
If the report is published - as now seems likely - the names of the politicians and lawyers it contains will not be blanked out.
"It is important we make available, if it is at all possible, any information that is available about people in the public eye," said the Scottish first minister, Jack McConnell.
There has been much speculation about the identity of the politicians in the report. It is known that in June 1996 Michael Forsyth, then Scottish secretary and MP for Stirling, congratulated Hamilton on running a boys' club in Dunblane.
George Robertson, now general secretary of Nato, withdrew his son from a club run by Hamilton amid concern about its militaristic nature.
No time frame has been given for the lord advocate's review, but campaigners say he must publish it in as full a form as possible. "I don't know whether this is cover-up or just a culture of secrecy, but we need to publish this report to put everyone's minds at rest," Mr Matheson said.