Dunblane tragedy: Victim's father tells of daily struggle 25 years on

13 March 2021, 09:00 | Updated: 14 March 2021, 08:28

By Fiona Winchester

Twenty-five years ago, the worst mass shooting in British history took place in the small Scottish town of Dunblane.

Some 16 pupils aged 5 and 6 and their 45-year-old teacher Gwen Mayor were murdered, when a lone gunman burst into their early morning gym class.

A further 15 were injured. It remains the deadliest firearms atrocity ever committed in the UK.

A quarter of a century has passed, but the mental scars are still visible in those who were left behind.

And marking the 25th anniversary while the country is still in lockdown is having an impact.

Years of living with the horror of what happened to his daughter finally caught up with Martyn Dunn.

Charlotte was one of the primary 1 pupils killed at Dunblane primary school on the 13th of March 1996.

Read more: Dunblane victim's siblings campaigning to change US gun laws

The tragedy in 1996 claimed 17 lives
The tragedy in 1996 claimed 17 lives. Picture: PA

In the dark years that followed the tragedy, he kept himself busy with work, fighting for gun reform as part of the Snowdrop campaign and serving on the committees that look after the various memorials to those who died that day.

But sometime around the 20th anniversary, it finally all became too much.

“It still feels like yesterday for the children, but it has been 25 difficult years," he said.

“I did have a period of very bad times. 4 or 5 years ago I did have a trip. I lost my job, I was struggling to get another one and I just flipped over. I was in hospital and I’m still on anxiety and depression medication at the moment.

“You have good days and bad days. Fortunately, I have my family and my wife by my side. We have friends from Dunblane so we can talk to people and we can generally support each other and cope.

Martyn says it will be difficult to be unable to get together on the anniversary this year and find strength from the other families whose children were killed.

“This year because of the lockdown, we will be unable to have our annual meetings, to hug and support each other. But as a family, we will be ok.”

A sea of floral tributes after the shooting in Dunblane
A sea of floral tributes after the shooting in Dunblane. Picture: PA

Fiona Tarantino-Polari was in Primary 7 at the time, in the classroom directly across the playground from the shootings. She heard the gunshots, thinking at first it was banging from workmen, or perhaps clay pigeon shooting in the surrounding countryside.

25 years later, her own daughter is about to go into Primary 1.

Her family have made the decision to move closer to the school she will attend.

“For me to be close to the school is quite a big thing. The chances of anything like that ever happening again but my anxieties are lessened by the fact that we are right next to the school and if anything were to happen, I would be there.

“It does come back, with your own kids going to school.”

For almost every year since she left school and Dunblane, Fiona has gone back to the town and visited her Primary 7 teacher and put down flowers in the cemetery, where the children were laid to rest side by side.

She says it will be strange not to do that this year.

“Nevertheless, I’ll go back when restrictions allow it and even though it won’t be exactly on the date it will still be remembering.”

The anniversary will be marked quietly and privately in the town today, as loved ones and locals continue to grieve for teacher Gwen Mayor and the 16 children who were never given the chance to grow up.

Candles will be lit at a memorial in the local community hall, to remember the day a quarter of a century ago when tragedy visited the town.