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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 22:41 GMT
Family's fury at Howard comments
Michael Howard being confronted by Sharon McMillan at the conference
Michael Howard was confronted by Sharon McMillan at the conference
The parents of a toddler who died after being hit with an airgun pellet have confronted Tory leader Michael Howard over his stance on the weapons.

Andrew Morton senior and Sharon McMillan blocked his way as he left the Scottish Tory conference in Dumfries.

Mr Howard had said that he opposed a ban on airguns and suggested that handgun legislation introduced after the Dunblane tragedy had gone too far.

His comments infuriated the parents of two-year-old Andrew.

'Playing games'

Confronting the Tory leader outside the conference venue, Isabella Bendoris, a family friend, said: "We've had confirmation you are making a statement opposing this gun ban."

Mr Howard replied: "I think it's a terrible tragedy."

Ms Bendoris said: "This was a two-year-old baby, I want you to look at that (picture)."

Ms McMillan then asked the Tory leader: "Do you see that, that is my son. If it was your son would you still be against it?"

Mr Howard replied: "Yes I would. I very much sympathise with you but I'm afraid I would."

The family accused him of "playing games" and said his views on guns were "diabolical".

Andrew Morton
Andrew Morton died after being hit with an airgun pellet

Mr Howard was asked: "Do you disagree with a baby being killed?"

Mr Howard replied: "No, I just disagree with the need for a ban."

Mark Bonini, 27, has appeared in court accused of firing an air weapon or similar instrument at the child, whereby he died after being struck on the head by a pellet.

He also faces two other charges, of firing an air weapon at a woman and a firefighter and at a street light and windows.

Earlier Mr Howard had been speaking on Radio Clyde.

He had said: "I have every sympathy with the family, it is a terrible, terrible thing to have happened.

Gun curbs

"But I don't honestly think that the answer to every tragedy is to introduce a new ban or change the law whenever something like that happens.

"We want those who have access to weapons to behave responsibly."

He went on to say the gun curbs introduced after the Dunblane school massacre, in which 16 children and their teacher were killed by gunman Thomas Hamilton in March 1996, went too far.

The Tories were in government at the time of the massacre but lost the general election the following year, and a ban on handguns was legislated by the incoming Labour government.

"I was home secretary at the time of the terrible tragedy at Dunblane. We did impose restrictions after that," said Mr Howard.

"I think the Government then went too far in banning handguns altogether."

'Wrong message

But the Gun Control Network (GCN) campaign group, set up after the massacre, criticised Mr Howard's remarks and said they were "grossly irresponsible".

GCN chairman Gill Marshall-Andrews said: "I am horrified that he should say the banning of handguns after Dunblane was a mistake.

"This country has a gun crime problem but it is very much less than in most other parts of the world.

"That's not to be complacent but it does mean that if you take action as we did after Dunblane, it does have an effect.

"I think his comments are grossly irresponsible and are sending completely the wrong message."


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