William, George, Billy & Scots Myths re the Cullen Report on Dunblane
This blog deals mainly with my concerns about the treatment of “Billy” (William Burns) by “William”, the then law lord William Douglas Cullen.
But first some clarification regarding Baron George Robertson of Port Ellen & Baron Cullen of Whitekirk in connection with the Queen Victoria School, Dunblane.
Picture shows Lord Cullen in Edinburgh leading a procession of members of “The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle” followed by Lord Robertson & other Knights of the Thistle
In light of some disturbing feedback to me I think there is a need to clarify the following statement I made in my blog entitled “Did Sir Fix it For Jim” in which I wrote:-
“I also wrote to the Patron of the school, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and the headmaster at the time of the allegations, also Lord Cullen and Lord George Robertson, who, The Housemaster had repeatedly stated, were visitors to the school during his time there.”
To be clear, the reason I considered writing to Lords Cullen and Robertson was that I had been told by an ex-housemaster, Glenn Harrison at Queen Victoria School, Dunblane (QVS), a boy’s boarding school, that both men had visited at a time when he believed physical and sexual abuse of pupils had taken place. I knew of no official connection linking either person with the school.
Mr. Harrison described boys being taken away from the school for weekends by a group he called “Friends of QVS” who were not officers of the school’s governing board. He also spoke of abuse at the school.
To elaborate further: In my initial telephone conversations with Mr. Harrison he had spoken of how he and his wife had sat at the window of their flat, overlooking the driveway at QVS and watched as prominent people they had seen on the television and in newspapers he called “Toffs”, get out of cars at the school’s main door.
During these telephone conversations Mr. Harrison wasn’t too sure of the names of some of the politicians, judges, and other celebrities he described. In an attempt at clarifying these vagaries I suggested names and positions of public figures based on the descriptions he gave, which he agreed to or otherwise. The list I eventually came up with was like a Who’s Who in Scots public life.
Keen to confirm or otherwise the names of these VIPs who, he said, had visited the school without any apparent status allowing them to do so I visited Mr. Harrison at Unst in Shetland to decide for myself whether or not he was genuine. I made the conscious decision that I would not mention or prompt him on the identity of any of these vagaries; these VIPs we had talked of on the phone.
I stuck to this rule and in our long, face to face chats he only repeated two of the names he had mentioned on the phone that were not, as far as I knew, connected with the school in any official capacity and they were George Robertson and Lord Cullen.
That is the reason why, in the first instance, I wrote to George Robertson and politely asked him the same questions I had asked of Her Majesty’s Commissioners (HMCs), the Headmaster and Prince Philip (all of whom were officially connected with the school). In doing so I made no inference that there was anything untoward about his reported presence at Queen Victoria School and simply sought corroboration or otherwise of allegations that had been made to me, regarding a group of Friends of QVS, as well as allegations of bullying and abuse, and the presence of Thomas Hamilton.
For all I knew Mr Robertson may have had good reason to be at Queen Victoria School. He may have been an invited guest or one of Her Majesty’s Commissioners and he may have shared the concerns of the ex-housemaster, but like most of HMCs he wasn’t about to answer my questions and instead tried, using his position as head of N.A.T.O., to have me investigated by Central Scotland Police. LINK
Lord Robertson welcomes US Foreign Sec. Colin Powell to N.A.T.O. HQ Brussels
Similarly, Lord Cullen may have had good reason to visit QVS as Mr. Harrison had stated (Mr Harrison recalled picking up Lord Cullen’s triangular place setting marker from a table set for a HMC’s dinner), but in his case I don’t think he was a HMC as I could find no record of this and if he was he would have been bound to declare that fact when the school was mentioned three times with regard to Thomas Hamilton’s activity there during the Dunblane Public Inquiry, which he chaired.
Unlike my dealings with George Robertson, I had previously written to Lord Cullen on another matter. This was regarding his Masonic membership status and I had found him evasive and unwilling to answer a specific question I put to him in that regard. So while I considered writing to him to ask him questions about QVS, I didn’t and to that extent the above statement from my blog is misleading as it implies that I had written to him specifically on the subject of QVS.
Lord Cullen sitting as a judge in the Scottish Court in The Hague
The above ends my clarification regarding Lords Robertson & Cullen.
Parliament invited me to obtain evidence of Masonic judges, but judges won’t say if they’re Masons.
My previous experience of writing to Lord Cullen came after I had been asked by the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament by letter of 03 Feb 2003 to give evidence (that is to cite cases) of where there was a perception, or evidence of, Masonic influence harming the justice system. This was in connection with my Public Petition PE 306 calling for a register of freemasons in the judiciary.
In my response to the Justice 2 Committee’s invitation, a week or so later, I submitted five examples of apparent Masonic interference in the justice system, or at least where there was a perception of this.
One of my examples was that of William Burns, a man who had first written to Lord Cullen at the time of his appointment as Chair, but before he began the Dunblane Public Inquiry. Mr Burns had asked Lord Cullen to declare his Masonic status and asked him to require witnesses to the inquiry to do likewise.
This request was hardly surprising as the prevailing mood in the country regarding undeclared freemasonry before the Dublane shootings had been one of disquiet. In 1994 and 1995 in the House of Commons a number of Labour MPs including Dennis Skinner had expressed fears that Masonic influence may have been used to pervert the course of justice. LINK
Then, the morning after the Dunblane shootings, these concerns were given further weight when the front page of The Scotsman newspaper raised the suggestion that freemasonry may have accounted for Thomas Hamilton’s apparently charmed life in avoiding prosecution during his lifetime. LINK
Mr Burns’ actions were not unsolicited and just as I was responding to an invitation by the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament LINK he had acted in response to an advertisement in The Scotsman seeking questions for the forthcoming Dunblane Public Inquiry LINK.
I was able to establish, by speaking to Mr Burns (a civil rights/justice campaigner who, as he was not known to me, I sought out after learning of him from the internet) that in response to his letter to the Dunblane Inquiry he had been given a verbal assurance over the telephone by the Clerk to the Inquiry, Mrs. Glynis McKeand, that Lord Cullen took on board his comments and other concerns re witnesses and that he (Lord Cullen) was not and had never been a freemason.
William “Billy” Burns
Mr. Burns told me that this verbal assurance had initially allayed his concerns, but as the inquiry proceeded and it was apparent that no witnesses were being asked if they were members of the freemasons, his concerns resurfaced.
In fact the subject of freemasonry wasn’t raised until day 4 of the public inquiry and then only briefly and in passing by a witness, the lollipop man, and admitted Mason Comrie Deuchars, then taken up by counsel for clarification and it was never raised again during the 24 days the inquiry sat. LINK
When Lord Cullen did not respond to Mr Burns’ further written submissions in person, but left it to the Mrs. Glynis McKeand, Secretary to the Inquiry, to fend off his written concerns in general terms, Mr. Burns took this evasion as being tantamount to an indication of Lord Cullen’s Masonic membership.
Mr. Burns said he saw this as a Masonic ruse of ‘diverting the discourse’, whereby Masons get others to respond in the negative to questions of their own Masonic status.
Dear Lord Cullen, have you ever taken the Oath of Entered Apprentice in freemasonry?
Armed with full knowledge of Mr Burns’s correspondence and his account of his experiences I wrote to Lord Cullen asking him personally to state his Masonic status in connection with my parliamentary petition PE306.
I also asked Grand Lodge of Scotland a similar question. In the event both parties failed to respond to my satisfaction. LINK
In Lord Cullen’s case, as with Mr. Burns’ questions, he allowed others to make an assumption and relay this to me. On such a personal and important matter this did not satisfy me and like Mr. Burns I suspected that Lord Cullen might indeed be a Mason and was fulfilling his Masonic obligation of keeping his membership secret.
My supposition about Lord Cullen being a freemason is not far-fetched. I know (again from research carried out for my public petition 306) that he is an undeclared extraordinary member of The Speculative Society of Edinburgh (Spec). This self-styled ‘sodality’ has Masonic origins and like the Masons doesn’t disclose who their members are. LINK
Undisclosed membership of the Spec among Scottish judges, when revealed to the UN-appointed Observer at the Lockerbie Trial & Appeal, Professor Hans Koechler caused him serious concern. LINK
Prof. Koechler’s reaction is not surprising as most people dislike secrecy and wish to know if those making important decisions in public life have interests that may cause them to be seen as less than impartial.
Lord Cullen had ordered all Dunblane evidence to be locked away from prying eyes…..but only for 100 years.
With their permission I quoted the concerns raised by Prof. Koechler’s and Mr. Burns to the Justice 2 Committee, as well as voicing my opinion that Lord Cullen was a freemason. I also questioned the propriety of the Dunblane Inquiry, which was already beginning to be viewed with scepticism by some serious observers, mainly because of the 100-year embargo placed by Lord Cullen on evidentiary productions.
It is important to remember that back in February 2003 the 100-year closure had only been challenged by individual campaigners, most notably William W. Scott and of course William Burns who was incensed that his representations to the Dunblane Public Inquiry had been firstly ignored, then locked away from prying eyes for 100 years.
Similarly the ex-housemasters allegations of abuse at Queen Victoria School and Thomas Hamilton’s presence/influence at that school had not been aired in the mainstream media and were known only to the few activists who read online public interest blogs. So when I put the case of Mr. Burns and QVS to the Justice 2 Committee it was the first time these matters had been aired publicly. LINK
I say publicly because it was my intention to have these matters aired on the parliament’s website where, at that time, all submissions by petitioners were published.
In the event the committee dismissed my submission out of hand as being fanciful, and possibly actionable, so decided not to publish them LINK , despite the fact that one of the cases cited by me was from government sources and three others had been covered by the mainstream media.
I disagreed with the Justice 2 Committee’s Draconian treatment of my submissions regarding Lord Cullen, as I don’t think it is far-fetched to imagine that members of secret societies have an obligation to keep their membership a secret and they may bend the truth in pursuing that promise. Such a case was that of David McLetchie, M.S.P., the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland about a year before this.
Appearing live on the BBC Six O’Clock televised news in 2002 Mr McLetchie denied he was a Mason, mocking the reporter who asked him the question by hitching up his trouser leg and bouncing the question back at the questioner. But in the following days (with the prospect of being outed by a fellow lodge member’s testimony to the Sun Newspaper) he recanted and rather shame-facedly, admitted he was once a Mason. But as he hadn’t paid his dues for 10 years so he considered he wasn’t one. LINK
What! Me a Mason! The very thought! IDS & David McLetchie laughing at journalist who asked if he was in the Craft.
Anyway the decision of the Scottish Parliament not to publish my submission was final and was said to have been taken on legal advice with talk of possible defamation of character by me. I disagreed with this opinion and published a full account on my website.
Fast forward 15 years and a BBC? programme rekindles my interest in Lord Cullen.
Part of the reasons that I am again making my position clear with regard to my Masonic membership questions to Lord Cullen is that over time it is quite widely believed that I was the person who asked him the question about his freemasonry at the time of the Dunblane Inquiry.
Even one of our most senior Queen’s Counsel, Donald Findlay, QC, in October 2005, relied on this canard to try to devalue a complaint I had made to the Faculty of Advocates about his conduct.
Perhaps I should have some sympathy for the hapless Mr Findlay as this erroneous allegation has been repeated about me on the internet so often that it has taken on urban myth status.
As evidence of this myth, in early July of this year I was contacted by a researcher purporting to be preparing a programme on freemasonry for BBC Scotland. The researcher talked extensively about my views on freemasonry in principle and then, in an incongruous manner, asked me by e-mail: “Was it you who wrote to Lord Cullen asking him outright if he was a mason?”
So for the avoidance of doubt here is the un-redacted correspondence of William Burns re freemasonry with the Dunblane Inquiry in 1996. LINK
And below, almost seven years later is my correspondence with Lord Cullen & The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland.
As can be seen the question I asked Lord Cullen was a follow-up to one of the many questions that William Burns put to him years earlier, the subject of which was part of my evidence to the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament. LINK
Lord Cullen didn’t investigate Thomas Hamilton’s Masonic membership far less any Masonic conspiracy.
The BBC programme researcher who contacted me also repeated another urban myth, namely that Lord Cullen, a non-Mason, had investigated Masonic conspiracy theories regarding Thomas Hamilton at the Dunblane Inquiry.
Just as my asking Lord Cullen if he was a freemason at the time of Dunblane is a myth this is another myth that I feel I should debunk. This second myth was floated in the same e-mail correspondence with the “programme for BBC researcher” and relies on one unattributed newspaper article in The Scotsman.
The article in question was published in 2005 at a time when, after much public pressure generated by justice campaigners such as Mr. Burns LINK, the Lord Advocate had released some of the Dunblane evidence files. LINK
The Scotsman’s mystery member of the public
This Scotsman article of September 2005 revealed exclusively that at the time of the Dunblane Inquiry a member of the public had queried Lord Cullen on his Masonic status.
This article relied on part of a selective and redacted release of papers by the Lord Advocate, so it did not reveal Billy Burns’ identity and quite bizarrely relied on anonymous comments written on a piece of cardboard, which in the newspapers’ view indicated that an unknown writer believed Lord Cullen was not a freemason.
The secret cardboard scribe also believed, he (Lord Cullen), was stunned that anyone would think he was a Mason, and even more astonishingly the article claimed, as a matter of fact, that “police investigated claims of a Masonic conspiracy“. LINK
Now I may be wrong about Lord Cullen being a Mason, but I am not wrong about there being no claim of a Masonic conspiracy by anyone at the Dunblane Inquiry, far less a police investigation of such a theory.
With regards to the assertion in The Scotsman that there was a police investigation into “claims of a Masonic conspiracy” even Lord Cullen made no such claim.
The evidence at the Dunblane Inquiry regarding freemasonry was initiated, not by any Crown counsel, but by a witness, a lollipop man, Comrie Deuchars. Deuchars, when answering questions about his friendship with the man he knew as Thomas Hamilton’s father, Jimmy Hamilton. Deuchars said that he and Jimmy drank together in a Masonic Lodge in Stirling.
Mr Deuchars then confirmed to Crown, junior counsel, Johathon Lake (who could hardly ignore the ‘en passant’ introduction of freemasonry) that he was a Mason, admitting that he didn’t really know Thomas Hamilton socially adding “I wouldn’t like to say. I don’t know” when asked what made him think from remarks made by James Hamilton that Thomas Hamilton wasn’t a Mason, adding “I couldn’t say what inference James made of that. Sorry.” LINK
Furthermore, the “police investigation” the newspaper report stated took place, is not to be found in the final Cullen Report or Appendix 4 (List of Submissions to the Inquiry). LINK Nor is it evident in the redacted evidence files of the Procurator Fiscal’s police report.
As a matter of fact it can be established beyond doubt that Lord Cullen did not examine the question of whether or not Thomas Hamilton was a freemason, rather he relied on a contradictory witnesses impression and his own contradictory comments on the letters of Thomas Hamilton to conclude he was satisfied that the mass murderer was not and had never been a Mason.
Who would one be likely to believe; C. Martin McGibbon, Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland, or a Lollipop Man?
C. Martin McGibbon, Grand Secretary
The written evidence of Thomas Hamilton’s Masonic membership that Lord Cullen may have seen (about which the best he could claim was that it “wasn’t overlooked”) was a one page report by a single police officer, a Detective Inspector with Central Scotland Police who had asked the Grand Secretary of Grand Lodge of Scotland, C. Martin McGibbon, to check on Thomas Hamilton in two lodges in Stirling and one in Garrowhill, Glasgow.
The Grand Masonic Lodge of Scotland’s Grand Secretary responded in a two page statement given on 3rd June (Day 4 of the PI), which said he didn’t find Thomas Hamilton to be a member of any of the three lodges he checked, adding that under his charge there were 660 lodges in Scotland and 1,100 worldwide. Of course the Scottish Masonic official could not speak for English masons who are regulated by U.G.L.E. LINK
Everyone trusts the Lollipop Man, don’t they?
N.B. If Lord Cullen did know of the Procurator Fiscal’s report regarding Thomas Hamilton’s Masonic membership it wouldn’t have been until the 5th of June at the very earliest (Day 6 of the PI). But he didn’t refer to it at the Dunblane Public Inquiry or in his final Report, and instead relied on the oral evidence of Comrie Deuchars, a Masonic lollipop man, who drank with fellow Mason Jimmy Hamilton (who he believed to be Thomas Hamilton’s father) in a Masonic Lodge in Stirling.
Confirmation that no Masonic investigation took place can also be gleaned from Lord Cullen’s handwritten note to the Clerk to the Inquiry, Glynis McKeand in which he admits that Thomas Hamilton’s letters to various VIPs does not specifically mention the “Brotherhoods”.
Lord Cullen then suggests, initially, that Mrs McKeand should tell the concerned Masonic writer (William Burns) that Hamilton had “written disparagingly about the masons,” but then scores out masons and changes this to “connection between the police and brotherhood organisations”. LINK
So it can be seen by his own hand that Lord Cullen considered stating to the Inquiry Secretary that Thomas Hamilton had disparaged the Masons, but then thought better of it, drawing a line through the word masons and giving an alternative wording only to reverse this in his final Report where he tells us the very opposite, namely that Thomas Hamilton in a “large volume of correspondence which he generated a recurring theme is his assertion that the police were biased in favour of the “brotherhood of masons””. LINK
So Lord Cullen, in a note, tells the Secretary to the Inquiry one thing while withholding the relevant letters about this from her, then he later tells the public in his final Dunblane Report these letters contained a recurring phrase, that he had earlier denied the existence of.
If you are confused, join the club, but don’t look for clarity as we can’t expect to see the letters that Lord Cullen didn’t let his clerk see. I suppose they may become available one day, but in the Lord Advocate’s redacted form they would probably be useless.
As for any oral evidence of any purported investigation of freemasonry, neither the lone Central Scotland police officer nor the Grand Secretary of Grand Lodge of Scotland that he interviewed was called to give evidence to the Public Inquiry and all we have is their skeletal, redacted statements in a report to the Procurator Fiscal dated 5th June (Day 6 of PI), which Lord Cullen may or may not have seen. LINK
Perhaps not surprisingly, Lord Cullen doesn’t mention the written police statement of C. Martin McGibbon, Grand Secretary of Grand Lodge in the Official Transcript of the Public Inquiry or his final Report.
The Dunblane Report was described by author Frederick Forsyth as “one of the weirdest documents the Scottish establishment has ever produced; not because of what it said but what it refused to ask or investigate.”
Frederick Forsyth wasn’t wrong. The above anomalies are but a few of the many arising from the Dunblane Public Inquiry and this is simply not good enough. No one wants to rake over the coals of the tragedy of Dunblane, but to leave so many questions unanswered is more damaging and will result in a festering wound. A weeping sore that saps credit from the Scottish justice system.
Forsyth wasn’t alone in his view of unanswered questions. Perhaps the most notable Scots journalist on Dunblane, Ian Bell of The Scotsman, believed Cullen was wrong about Hamilton not being a freemason and believed that this was a story for another day. Sadly Bell died before addressing his unfinished business. LINK
One way to begin to correct the many negative impressions about the Dunblane Inquiry is for Lord Cullen to make a public announcement that he is not and never has been a freemason and explain his status and silence during the evidence to the inquiry regarding Queen Victoria School, Dunblane.
If Lord Cullen fails to do these two simple things then the rumours that he is a Mason and this explains the Dunblane Public Inquiry’s inexplicable failure to examine the possibility that freemasonry accounted for Thomas Hamilton’s apparently charmed life will persist.
And the same applies to Lord Cullen’s apparently relaxed attitude towards Thomas Hamilton’s presence at Queen Victoria School at a time when he himself was said to be a visitor, and in a matter of months, would be, as Lord Justice Clerk, a senior, Ex-Officio HMC there. This is in stark contrast to his assiduous examination and reporting of other schools mentioned in evidence at the inquiry.
In my submission to the Justice 2 Committee I floated the possibility that perhaps Lord Cullen was, either consciously or sub-consciously protecting his fellow members of the Speculative Society such as Prince Philip, Lord Ross and David McElhose (all HMC for QVS) or deferring to the Head of Her Majesty’s Commissioners at QVS, Michael Forsyth MP, the Scottish Secretary; the man who at a supper at Bute House (somewhere between the smoked haddock and poached plums?) agreed to give Lord Cullen direction in the inquiry and be available for guidance. LINK
It seems clear from the notes of the Bute House supper that silencing the press with a faux sub judice threat was part of that guidance, as only days later this came to pass and but for the principled stand of Ian Bell and The Scotsman may have succeeded. LINK
The Bute House supper was instigated by the same Michael Forsyth who had earlier, within hours of the shooting at Dunblane and following discussion with law lords Hope and Mackay, recommended Lord Cullen as being the “right judge” for the Public Inquiry. LINK
What exactly does the “right judge” mean?
- Lord Cullen was certainly the right judge for Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons Scotland who were cleared of having had Thomas Hamilton as a member when Lord Cullen said he was “satisfied he was not a member of the masons”. This absolution was not on the evidence of Grand Lodge, who simply had their Grand Secretary scan the record books of 3 of the 660 lodges in Scotland alone and another 500 abroad that are under their charge. No, Lord Cullen instead preferred the evidence of a Masonic lollipop man, Comrie Deuchars who didn’t socialise with “Tom”, as well as the letters of Thomas Hamilton that we, the public can’t see. But he wasn’t the right judge for William Burns, Chris Mullin MP, Dennis Skinner MP, and a host of others who asked for and expected the inquiry to ascertain the Masonic status of those giving evidence and thoroughly investigate the possibility that Masonic influence (not a Masonic conspiracy) allowed Thomas Hamilton to lead a privileged life free from the normal penalties of our justice system.
- Lord Cullen was certainly the right judge for Central Scotland Police as he allowed them to investigate their own shortcomings in dealings with their informant Thomas Hamilton LINK and he didn’t trouble the Chief Constable to attend the inquiry to have his evidence tested. But he wasn’t the right judge for Alex Salmond who echoed the public view in wanting an outside force to thoroughly investigate all aspects of Thomas Hamilton’s charmed life.
- Lord Cullen was certainly the right judge for Her Majesty’s Commissioners charged with the duty of care for pupils at Queen Victoria School, Dunblane. None more so than the man who gave Lord Cullen his supper and guidance, the most senior HMC, Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth. No doubt other recent Secretaries of State Ian Lang and Malcolm Rifkind would have been relieved that they didn’t have to answer awkward questions about Thomas Hamilton at QVS. Likewise Lord Ross, who was Lord Cullen’s immediate superior in the judiciary. But he wasn’t the right judge for Glenn Harrison, the ex-housemaster there and others who wanted Thomas Hamilton’s presence and influence at Queen Victoria School investigated i.e.: his unfettered access to the cadet force military shooting range, the school grounds for boy’s camps as well as his influence in fixing appointments of staff at summer schools.
- Lord Cullen was certainly the right judge for Lord McKay of Drumadoon, Michael Forsyth, MP, Scottish Secretary; Lord Hope the Lord President, and Prime Minister, John Major, who sought to limit the extent of the public inquiry by having the “right judge” who would not over react. But he wasn’t the right judge for the general public who expected an inquiry that was truly independent and free from any political or other external influences, a judge who would take the inquiry wherever the evidence led it without deference, fear or favour.
- Lord Cullen was certainly the right judge for those who like secrecy with his extra-statutory 100 year closure order for all documents relating to the public inquiry. This order, which, after much public disquiet, was relaxed when some papers were released in part, but in such a highly redacted format as to make them illegible. But he wasn’t the right judge for those of us value transparency and had campaigned long and hard to have the 100-year closure overturned so as to be able to properly examine, in full, all of the evidence that led to the Cullen Report.
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to William “Billy” Burns for his patience, understanding and cooperation in providing me with his correspondence with Lord Cullen and others re the Dunblane Inquiry. Also Alistair Dalton of The Scotsman and Tom Gordon of the Glasgow Herald for articles re Dunblane.
Footnote: When a Child Abuse Inquiry was announced by the Scottish Parliament I wrote to the chair to offer my experience of reporting second hand allegations of abuse at QVS. The CAI eventually got back to me and advised me that they would interview me in the near future. That was back in May 2017 and I am still waiting. Coincidentally the lawyer to the CAI is Felicity Cullen, Lord Cullen’s daughter.