Attacked school was security conscious

12th July 1996 at 01:00
New alarms had been fitted to St Luke's, Wolverhampton, after December's fatal stabbing of a London headteacher. James Montgomery reports. Security at the Wolverhampton infants school where a man wielding a machete injured three children and four adults in an indiscriminate attack was tightened following the fatal stabbing of London headteacher Philip Lawrence.

Extra alarms, lights and locks on external doors were installed earlier this year at St Luke's, a Church of England school with 165 pupils aged three to six. Some bushes and trees were also removed.

While anxious not to appear complacent, Wolverhampton Council, which expects to make Pounds 250,000 available next year for measures to improve teacher and pupil safety, believes it is "more ahead of the game than some local authorities".

On the advice of a working party created in February comprising the police, fire service, teachers' organisations and the Wolverhampton community safety partnership, personal alarms are to be issued to all school staff at a cost of Pounds 10,000.

The authority has set aside Pounds 60,000 in next year's education budget for school security, and promised to match from its insurance fund any money raised by individual schools and outside agencies. From next term a training programme, addressing issues such as visitor access, will be launched as part of measures to ensure minimum standards of personal safety and physical security.

A security database is also being created, based on a questionnaire filled in by heads. St Luke's indicated it was satisfied with its improved arrangements.

But as David Hawkins, the councillor who chairs the review, admitted, the working party recognised at the outset that "there was nothing we could do to prevent a Dunblane-style incident".

St Luke's - a "well-managed school with caring and supportive staff", according to education director Roy Lockwood - occupies a compact site close to the city centre.

The assailant did not wander in unchallenged but climbed over a 4ft wall and a low fence before attacking the children as they sat outside during a teddy bears' picnic. Closed-circuit television cameras would have made little difference.

One parent, who ran inside to raise the alarm, told how the entrance to the school was locked and then opened again to allow some children back in. The attacker ran off when confronted by other parents.

Bob Jones, chair of education, paid tribute to the courage of parents and staff who risked their lives to protect pupils, saying: "It could have been a lot worse. We have the greatest admiration for their actions."

Nursery nurse Lisa Potts was slashed on her head and back as she tried to shelter the children from the blows of the 2ft machete.

One of the pupils she was trying to protect, three-year-old Ahmed Malik, received a 5-inch head wound and underwent a three-hour operation in hospital.

Rhena Chopra, four, suffered serious facial injuries. A third child, Francesca Quintyne, had one of her ears partially severed and her jaw broken. She will require extensive plastic surgery and may be disfigured for life.

One of the parents, Wendy Willington, received a fractured jaw and cuts to her back and head as she protected her four-year-old son. Rhena's mother, Surinder Kaur, and another parent Azra Rasik, were also treated in hospital for cuts.

Police, who earlier named 32-year-old Horrett Campbell as a suspect, arrested a man on Tuesday evening - some 28 hours after the attack - in a nearby block of flats. St Luke's will remained closed until further notice.

The National Union of Teachers has renewed calls for the Government to ensure grants to improve school security, available in 1997, will be "new money". It also wants the Government to meet the full cost, rather than expect local authorities to contribute 40 per cent.

Launching a consultation paper on ways to curb stalking, Home Office minister David Maclean this week suggested that proposals to facilitate injunctions against offenders might be used to remove people who loiter outside schools.

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