Date set for Dunblane hearings

PRELIMINARY hearings into the Dunblane massacre of 16 children and a school teacher will open on 1 May.

Lawyers representing individuals or groups involved or interested will make submissions to the preliminary hearing to resolve questions of procedure and representation.

Lord Cullen, head of the inquiry, will then decide who will be heard at the full inquiry in June at Stirling, near Dunblane.

The families of some of the children involved in the incident are believed to be considering joint legal representation. Police officers, councillors and council officials may also give evidence or be represented.

Lord Cullen will also be able to order witnesses to attend the inquiry which is likely to look into how killer Thomas Hamilton obtained firearms licences allowing him to own several handguns and whether the massacre could have been foreseen or prevented.

Hamilton shot all but one of the 29 children in a Primary One class when he walked into the school gymnasium on 13 March, killing 16 children, aged 5 and 6, and teacher Gwenne Mayor. He then killed himself.

The gymnasium was demolished last week.

Lord Cullen, a senator of the College of Justice in Scotland, is currently preparing for the inquiry and studying the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, which will regulate the inquiry set up immediately after the massacre by Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth.

A Scottish Office spokesman said the inquiry's mechanics were very much in the hands of Lord Cullen, but as much of the evidence as possible was expected to be written, with oral evidence kept to a minimum.

The inquiry is expected to take four weeks and will follow similar procedures to those of the inquiry into the Aberfan disaster in the 1960s.

Forsyth wants it to report in September, but the final deadline is also at Lord Cullen's discretion.

Lord Cullen, one of Scotland's most senior judges, has been a Lord of Session since 1986 and a member of the Scottish Bar since 1960. He sat on the Court of Inquiry into the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster between 1988 and 1990.