Dunblane: Scars still run deep for Dundee photographer who covered tragedy

A Dundee photographer has admitted he is still haunted by the Dunblane Tragedy 25 years on.

Sixteen children were murdered along with their teacher on March 13 1996 and Ron Cathro was among the first on the scene.

Ron has never spoken publicly about his experience until now and said it was a scene of unimaginable chaos and confusion.

Tears eventually came

He was weeping from behind the camera but managed to hold it all together as he captured images in the face of unimaginable grief.

But the tears flowed when he got back to his car.

A policeman stands guard outside Dunblane Primary School following the shootings.

“I cried all the way home in the car,” said Ron.

“I was overcome with emotion and when I got home my tee-shirt was soaking wet from the tears.”

Ron was a photographer for The Courier of 12 years’ experience at the time when Thomas Hamilton broke into the gymnasium of Dunblane Primary School armed with four handguns and 700 rounds of ammunition and began shooting at a class of five and six-year-olds before turning the gun on himself.

Ron’s day had started as normal when he was sent to a job at Guardbridge Paper Mill before his pager went off.

He called news editor Steve Bargeton who told him to drop everything and go to Dunblane following reports of a shooting at the primary school.

The rest is history.

News kept getting worse

“I coach football at Strathmartine Primary School and I thought of every one of them – I couldn’t get that picture out of my head,” said Mr Cathro.

“I turned the radio on as I was driving and the news just kept getting worse and worse – it was pandemonium.

“I was one of the first photographers on the scene and watched the parents arriving at the school.

The public lay flowers in Dunblane following the shootings.

“I thought of my own daughter who was eight at the time and I couldn’t imagine the pain they were going through.

“The one thing that sticks in my mind was a wee man in a bonnet walked past me and asked what’s going on.

“I told him someone had shot some of the children and he replied: ‘It’ll be that bastard Hamilton’.

“I never thought any more about it until the next day when we found out who was responsible.”

Incredibly sad

Ron said he still feels pangs of guilt about aiming his long lens and doing his job while the community was in mourning.

“I felt like I was intruding on their grief but instinct took over and I had a job to do,” he said.

“In my 12 years with the paper I had covered many tragic stories but there was nothing before and nothing since that comes close in terms of the horror and the heartbreak.

“It was incredibly sad and still makes me emotional even now.”

Ron said he couldn’t let go of his daughter once he finally got home.

Norma Major and Prime Minister John Major lay a wreath at Dunblane Primary School.

The next day he was sent back to Dunblane which he said was “the last place on earth” he wanted to be.

“You can’t quantify the hurt,” he said.

“I was trying to be professional but I was weeping behind the camera.

“Even now when I have to drive past Dunblane it leaves me cold.

“I’m still haunted by what happened that day.”

Fighting back tears at his desk

Ian Lamb, from Arbroath, was The Courier’s assistant editor at the time of the tragedy.

He said: “It was unbelievable – you couldn’t believe that something like that was happening in your own back yard.

“I was thinking of the parents who had dropped their children off at school that morning – where could they have been safer than in a primary school?

“I just felt myself welling up at my desk but then I started thinking more clearly about what the paper might look like.

“It was a day that you can’t describe.

“It’s understating it to say it was unforgettable – it was so horrific that it is burned into your memory.

“Everyone who was working that day was scarred by it.”

The Queen in Dunblane to pay her respects.

Anniversary will be marked “quietly, privately and with respect”

The 25th anniversary of the Dunblane tragedy will be marked privately by residents “as is the case every year”, a local minister has said.

Despite churches being closed due to the current coronavirus restrictions, Rev Colin Renwick, minister at Dunblane Cathedral, will hold worship online on Sunday and remember the victims in prayer.

The shootings in the Stirlingshire town shocked the nation and led to the UK enforcing some of the strictest firearms legislation in the world.

People still bear scars

Rev Renwick said: “Many people in Dunblane will be marking this particular anniversary as they mark March 13 every year – quietly, privately and with respect for those who lost their lives in the tragedy of 25 years ago.

“They will also be remembering those whose grief will always be deepest, and the people who still, in one way or another, bear scars.

“Some will light a candle in their home, spending time in quiet reflection, prayer and remembering.

A female mourner hugs a child at the vigil held at Dunblane Cathedral following the shootings at Dunblane Primary School.

“For those who lost someone in the tragedy, every day will be one of remembering in some way, and the anniversaries that will be just as poignant for them will be the birthdays of those they have lost, as they ponder what might have been.

“As is the case every year, the people lost, and those affected most profoundly, will be remembered in prayers in churches throughout the community, including Dunblane Cathedral, on the Sunday closest to March 13.

“Sadly, because of restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, Dunblane Cathedral, in common with all church buildings and other historic properties, is currently closed, and worship is being held online.”

Pray for the bereaved

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church or Scotland, said: “It was one of the darkest days in Scotland’s modern history.

“Such atrocities happened elsewhere until that day and nothing was quite the same afterwards.

“I’ll be taking time this weekend to pray for those who were left bereaved and for whom the remembering will be sore.”

People queue to attend the vigil held at Dunblane Cathral following the tragedy back in March 1996.

On Thursday night, a special programme marking the anniversary aired on STV with Lorraine Kelly revisiting the town where she reported on the news a quarter of a century ago.

Lynne McMaster, whose daughter Victoria Clydesdale was one of the children killed, told the programme how the five-year-old had a rash but still pleaded to go to school for PE, which was her favourite subject.

She said: “I relive that day over and over and over. Because she had gym that day, she wanted to go, so I’ve got the guilt of giving in to her.”

Colin McKinnon, whose six-year-old son Brett also died, said he suffered from depression and PTSD following the tragedy.

Perth & Kinross – The Courier