It hardly seems like twenty years. This week Ron Taylor, headmaster of Dunblane Primary school at the time of the shootings, talked for the first time about the enduring horror and guilt that he has carried since that day.
Thirteenth March, 1996, was one of those rare and glorious spring mornings. The drive to Dunblane, in the bright, warm sunshine, was wonderful. It hardly felt like work. Lambs, heralding the new life surging through the landscape, leapt in verdant fields among patches of dark snow slowly submitting to the warmth engulfing the land. It was one of those days on which it is impossible not to beam, bathed in the joy of the season’s turning.
Leaving the motorway behind, heading into the sleepy town at the end of my route, all seemed well with the world. Daffodils waved a welcome. I’d made good time. Five hundred yards to my last drop, a mere half a ton of bread, I was wondering if this day could be any better when, turning off the through road, everything changed.
Imagine being hit with every possible level of confusion at once.
Roads which, a few seconds earlier, appeared empty, were suddenly entirely filled. People swarmed across pavements, meandering across the road, and between the impossible jam of cars. All were heading in the same direction. As to the traffic: nothing moved.
Cars sat across the road. Cars drove on the wrong side of the road. Cars mounted the pavement and squeezed through impossibly small gaps. Every driver appeared agitated, yet sat patiently as the gridlock slowly sorted itself out.
A woman, trying to join traffic from the right, looked tearful and, strangely, frightened. As I waved her in front of me, despite her obvious relief, she remained painfully haunted. One driver, entering the main road ahead, appeared completely distracted and managed to ram into another vehicle trying to join from the opposite side. He mouthed “Sorry.” The driver of the other car waved, and clearly mouthed “It’s OK”.
What on earth was going on?
Half an hour passed, inching the two hundred yards to the junction. A policeman stood there, trying to make sense of the situation and regain control. Pointing at what appeared to be a factory unit on the corner, he indicated that “an incident” had occurred and I would have to wait with the other trucks already there. He looked to be in shock.
I joined my fellow delivery drivers in quarantine. They had already gone through all the options, but no-one had any idea what was happening. Some, like me, found themselves in the odd position of being less than a hundred yards from their destination with no hope of ever reaching it! One had managed to call his depot who advised him to leave. When he tried to do so, we all found out what “lockdown” meant. None of us were going anywhere.
Two hours passed. The bottleneck had long dispersed. Hardly anyone had passed on the pavement for over an hour. The policeman finally came and spoke to each of us separately. We could leave. I asked if I could make my delivery. It was only a few yards up the road. I would have to wait another hour for that.
As this would take me past the time at which the delivery would be accepted, I walked up to discuss the situation with the customer. I was happy to wait if they were going to accept the shipment, otherwise I would just leave.
That decision rates fairly high in the league table of bad ones I have made in this life. It was that decision which would first reveal details of the “incident” that had caused such chaos. It was that decision which would expose a stomach churning aspect of humanity that has haunted me ever since.
His eyes positively gleamed. “Yes, we will definitely take the shipment. Give us everything you have. There will be reporters, camera crews, possibly from all over the world. They will all need to be fed. But don’t come to the loading bay. You might be seen. Come round the back to the staff entrance”. The confusion on my face must have been palpable. “Haven’t you heard? There has been a shooting at the school”.
Dazed, I stumbled back to the truck. Sickened, confused, disoriented. If the policeman hadn’t said I could make my delivery now, I might have come to my senses and driven off. As it was, I found myself complicit. Unloading at the staff entrance, nausea turned to disgust turned to rage. He obviously felt nothing, glancing around surreptitiously, before closing the doors to conceal his haul.
It was only when I finally got home, late that afternoon, that the full tragedy of the day’s events became clear. Sixteen five year olds, and their incredibly brave teacher, were killed by a twisted, broken individual.
I can’t even begin to imagine the horror witnessed by those who, like Ron, were directly involved. For me, that fateful day in Dunblane revealed some of the best, and worst, that people are capable of in a crisis. The UK banned the private ownership of handguns in the aftermath. The families still live with their tragic loss.
The actions of many that day taught me that, when bad things happen, most seem to know the right thing to do. Those who fail to recognise the deeper truth of our shared humanity, social equality and moral obligations of shared community are few.
In times of great adversity, there always remains hope.